Monday, August 28, 2006

Hope Is STILL Not a Plan...


Just a little less than a year ago, I attended a lecture given by Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book Dead Man Walking. She travels the country speaking out against the death penalty, and she spoke at a Catholic church in East Memphis.

This was just a few short weeks after water topped the levees in her adopted hometown and laid it waste.

“The miracle of Hurricane Katrina” she said, choking up slightly, “is that it ripped the veil off of George W. Bush’s attitudes about the poor.” It was hard to argue with that. In fact, if any argument was to be made at all, it was that George W. Bush’s attitude was tucked under the flimsiest of veils, a tiny cloth that always seemed in danger of slipping off to reveal the true hideousness beneath. It was only a few days after the First Mother said rather cheerily in a “let them eat cake” moment that many of the people affected by the tragedy were poor anyway, so it “worked out well” for them. New Orleans was everything that George W. Bush was ill at ease with. It was sexy, spicy, and dangerous, but in that good way--- She’s the girl that you know you can’t take home to mother, but you’ll have a great time with her until the bed breaks.

And most of all, it was black. It was full of working class people, jazz musicians, practitioners of strange religions, women who bare their breasts for cheap trinkets tossed at them--- Definitely not the kind of people you find in Kennebunkport unless they’ve been hired to clean someone’s pool.

The official line was that the president had no idea it was coming. You’ll recall this excuse worked rather well for him on 9/11, at least until the commission established years later that he had ignored numerous warnings. It wasn’t until April of this year, after mud and feces stunk up the streets of a major city for eight months that the video establishing that he did in fact know was leaked.

The phrase “Heckuva job, Brownie” has become something of a catchphrase in the last year, even making it into an episode of “The Sopranos” when Paulie Walnuts colossally screwed up something as simple as setting up a merry-go-round for a street fair. It’s fairly indicative of what Sister Helen talked about--- While 30,000 languished inside the Superdome (A building designed only to house people long enough to watch the Saints lose) with only 36 hours of food, the ultimate do-nothing federal government was patting itself on the back for a job well done.

Not that “Brownie” was the only one that screwed up. He was the most glaring and obvious (Gee, who could have ever thought there could be negative fallout from hiring a horse show judge to manage national emergencies?), but there was a catastrophic failure throughout the federal government.

The right wing noise machine tried to shift the blame to Ray Nagin by using an aerial photo of the New Orleans School Bus facility and spreading the rumor that 2000 school buses sat unused. This link goes to probably the best debunking of that myth that I’ve yet found. They tried to shift the blame to Kathleen Blanco by saying that she hadn’t requested aid soon enough, words that they soon had to eat.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this. No one has the resources at the disposal of the federal government. Should Blanco have deployed the National Guard? Sure. But they weren’t available because some raging fool sent them on the Great WMD Snipe Hunt, along with much of the heavy equipment assigned to the Louisiana National Guard. Turns out that some of the same equipment that helps you clear mud and trees out of city streets is also good for pulling wreckage out of the new democracy built in Baghdad.

Was Ray Nagin’s performance good? Of course not. When your city is built on the same design principle as a soup bowl partially submerged in a bathtub, you do not piss around when it comes to ordering evacuations. Was Blanco’s performance good? I’ve heard conservatives say it wasn’t, but I’ve yet to see one offer anything tangible that could have or should have been done better.

But the federal government failed so thoroughly that the stench of failure hangs over the Potomac the same way the stench of mud and shit hang over New Orleans. FEMA was saying they couldn’t make it in safely, but Sean Penn found a way. So did Harry Connick, and come to think of it, even the rough-and-tumble Al Gore managed to get into the city before FEMA did. When the federal government was pretending it was unsafe to go into the city, Anderson Cooper was wading in knee deep water.

When this nation was attacked on September 11, 2001, the federal government not only managed to put together a plan (The last actual plan ever devised under Bush), but managed to put together an international coalition and fly the 6,750 miles to Afghanistan in time to put special forces in and start shelling on October 7. Twenty-six days. Clearly, the federal government can manage a brisk pace when they feel the need.

It took two to get to Louisiana, where lives hung in the balance, where every moment that passed made a rescue scenario less likely and a recovery scenario more likely.

When “children of a lesser god” are to be killed, George W. Bush rushes in. When “children of a lesser god” need to be saved, there’s always something else to do. In this case, the end of a vacation, a photo op with John McCain’s birthday cake, and playing air guitar with Mark Wills all took priority, just as trout fishing took priority over a memo called “Osama bin laden Determined To Strike Inside the United States” four years earlier.

And what has happened in the year since then? We’re no closer to rebuilding New Orleans than we are to rebuilding Iraq. Perhaps that’s because the checks for both of those projects are deposited into the same bottomless bank account.

As different as they are, there’s one stark similarity between 9/11 and Katrina. I remember being told that Osama bin Laden was “wanted dead or alive” just as clearly as I remember being told during a speech in Jackson Square that George W. Bush was ready to “do what it takes”. He still has that same lack of follow-through, which at least partially explains his torpedoing of Representative Richard Baker’s (R-LA) bill to allow New Orleans homeowners to recover 60% of the values of their homes (Which seems 40% shy of a fair deal, since we’ve allowed insurers to default on paying the claims without consequence).

For those people who voted for George W. Bush and cite “security issues” as the reason for it, the time has come for you to face the music.

Do you want to see what a catastrophic attack on the United States would look like? Look at New Orleans. New Orleans is how ineffective this government is with close to a week’s advance warning.

How bad would it be with no warning at all?

12 comments:

David Holt said...

You’ve got to say this for Bush, though. He’s consistent. He’s incompetent with war, natural disasters, the economy, the English language, etc. No flip-flopping for him. Do it wrong the first time and then stay the course. I can respect that.

Freedonian said...

That would have been a good campaign slogan for him. "Consistent in sucktitude."

John Harvey said...

Ok, you've pulled me into your rant. So tell me again what the mayor's responsibility was in the Katrina fiasco? And what about the Governor?

Ray Nagin let 1,000 school buses sit while poor people were waiting to relocate. Jessie Jackson says (after they finally came up with a Nagin defense strategy) that they had nowhere to go. If you were faced with the possibility of drowning or getting on a bus to nowhere, which would YOU choose? I'm taking the hustle bus to anywhere else.

The Federal govt. may have had some blame, but Nagin is first up, Blanco next and then the feds. Get the order of responsibility right. The president can't just take over. He has to be invited and the Republicans AND Democrats were trying to use this EVENT for their own gain. They both should be embarassed.

I went down there several times to help out and I saw a marked difference in the way Mississippi handled the storm's aftermath and the way New Orleans handled it. People in MS were too busy trying to fix things to point fingers, while Ray was out talking about chocolate. I hereby nominate him as THE WORST MAYOR IN THE USA.

It was widely reported that there was a disproportionate number of blacks who died after the flood, but the truth is there weren't. The common denominator was age and income level, not race. Poor people are always at a disadvantage, regardless of race.

Y'all can have fun ranting about Bush, but the truth is the Democrats in Louisanna, particularly Ray Nagin, failed their constituents.

Freedonian said...

Ray Nagin let 1,000 school buses sit while poor people were waiting to relocate.

Does a right wing talking point gain validity because you only exaggerated that story half as much as the right wing media?

Click here. See how many the city had altogether. And 74 of those were broken down when the hurricane hit.

The Federal govt. may have had some blame, but Nagin is first up, Blanco next and then the feds.

This problem was bigger than any municipal or even state government could hope to take care of.

Which leads neatly into the next point...

The president can't just take over. He has to be invited

Saturday, August 27:
“I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster.”

No answer from the White House.

Monday, August 29:
“Mr. President, we need your help. We need everything you’ve got.”

Wednesday, August 31:
“I just asked him for help, ‘whatever you have’.” She asked for 40,000 troops.”

Oh, and this is pretty rich.
Saturday, September 3:
“As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.” They were forced to issue a correction hours later.

Did I miss anything? Don't say "Bush's response" because if there was one, they wouldn't have had to lie about her asking for help, now would they?

I went down there several times to help out and I saw a marked difference in the way Mississippi handled the storm's aftermath and the way New Orleans handled it.

Couldn't have anything to do with there being eight feet of water in New Orleans could it? Dead bodies floating down the streets? People climbing up on rooftops to get out of the water? Does any of this ring a bell?

You had wreckage in Mississippi, but unlike New Orleans, the people that survived the initial storm there were safe. Hell, there were dead, bloated bodies floating down the street in New Orleans while Dubya was going on and on about Trent Lott's porch.

I guess it's easier to worry about "fixing things" like Trent's porch when you're not watching your neighbors float past you.

I hereby nominate him as THE WORST MAYOR IN THE USA.

I don't even disagree with that. But Rudy Freakin' Giuliani (I know you're a fan of his) couldn't have pulled off the kind of miracle you seem to think Nagin should have been able to.

Hell, he became a superstar to guys like you because when two buildings in his city were attacked, spreading toxic air for what, sixteen city blocks, he couldn't find his way out of the city. Not that he wasn't trying, and he'd tell you the same thing, just like he did in the HBO documentary.

Y'all can have fun ranting about Bush, but the truth is the Democrats in Louisanna, particularly Ray Nagin, failed their constituents.

Democrats in Louisiana, huh? You mean Nagin, the Republican that became a Democrat the day before the filing deadline because he couldn't win the GOP primary?

Nagin had actually been a registered Republican for most of his adult life, switching to the Democrats shortly before seeking office, for which his candidacy was branded as opportunistic in the solidly Democrat city. Nagin was, at that time, a known Bush supporter, having contributed to the president’s campaign.

Oh, and here's where he donated to Bush. No wonder he was so pissed. How's it gotta feel to be the only Bush donor that didn't get a job with the government or a no-bid contract in Iraq?

Anonymous said...

Great post ... beautiful follow up. The fact that New Orleans still isn't fixed is a tragedy.

Dabney

John Harvey said...

Ray Nagin let 1,000 school buses sit while poor people were waiting to relocate.

Does a right wing talking point gain validity because you only exaggerated that story half as much as the right wing media?


A fact is a fact is a fact. You can call it a talking point all you want, but that won't change the fact that the buses (ok maybe there were only 925 buses) shoulda and coulda been used. That's on Nagin.

I guess it's easier to worry about "fixing things" like Trent's porch when you're not watching your neighbors float past you.

As to the severity of the storm, there were two different storms. The storm that hit Mississippi was the wind and water from the hurricane. New Orleans got most of their damage from flooding. The damage all along the MS coast was not just a damaged porch or two. It looked like someone had mulched the first inland mile. I saw it up close and personal. Don't attempt to minimize the damage to MS. It was simply handled by people who were trying to fix things as opposed to people trying to blame others for their incompetence.

As to Nagin being a republican, I believe I see a D by his name. If you are going to tag people Republican because they contributed to one, most of the dems in this town will have to be included. Nagin was first elected by businessmen, because he was seen as someone they could work with. This last time he used the race card, because the knew that was the only way he could win.

As far as Rudi being able to do better than Nagin. Give me a break. My 17 year old son could have done a better job. I was wondering about the current evacuation plans for New Orleans the other day. Do you think they would include USING the buses if another storm hits? I'll bet the city has some semblance of a disaster plan in place now. On second thought, they probably don't.

I place the blame for the New Orleans fiasco squarely on the local and state politicians. They have had money pumped in there for years and what they haven't stolen, they have misappropriated. Louisanna has a track record of corruption that is even worse than ours!< G >

As far as requests for assistance from the governor, was that an email request, or a formal, legal document? I think what you have is an email. Don't get me wrong, I think the president could have done better, but he would have done so at his own peril. Y'all would have accused him of taking over local government if he had acted more quickly. Admit it, you're looking for any tidbit of an issue you can bring up against W cause you're still mad he/we won the last two presidential races.

If you want to bash Bush, get another issue. This one is on the Dems in LA. I'll join in with you if you want to bash him on securing our borders!

Freedonian said...

A fact is a fact is a fact. You can call it a talking point all you want, but that won't change the fact that the buses (ok maybe there were only 925 buses) shoulda and coulda been used. That's on Nagin.

Damn, Jon, did you get so flustered by my questioning Rudy's ability to part Lake Pontchartrain that you forgot how to click on a hyperlink? I gave you a link to disprove that utterly baseless talking point once in the main body of the article and once in my response to you.

All I can do is give you the truth. I guess I can't make you care about it.

There were only a little over 300 school buses in existence. Compare NO to Memphis--- Do you really think Memphis has 1000 school buses? Similar sized cities...

As to the severity of the storm, there were two different storms. The storm that hit Mississippi was the wind and water from the hurricane. New Orleans got most of their damage from flooding. The damage all along the MS coast was not just a damaged porch or two. It looked like someone had mulched the first inland mile. I saw it up close and personal. Don't attempt to minimize the damage to MS.

I'm not. I'm saying that the people who survived the initial onslaught in MS were safe. That wasn't the case in NO.

Right wing double standard coming right up in 1... 2...

As to Nagin being a republican, I believe I see a D by his name. If you are going to tag people Republican because they contributed to one, most of the dems in this town will have to be included.

Mike Bloomberg in NYC became a Repubnlican the day before the filing deadline, and Republicans always refer to him as a Dem. Nagin became a Dem the day before the filing deadline, and he's still a Dem.

Nagin was a lifelong Republican (Verifiable by the hyperlink you ignored) that rented the (D) next to his name, just the opposite of Bloomberg.

I place the blame for the New Orleans fiasco squarely on the local and state politicians.

Yeah, I noticed. You're wrong, but what the hell.

Louisanna has a track record of corruption that is even worse than ours!< G >


Perhaps. Then again, if Halliburton owned fleets of buses, maybe the corruption trifecta would have been complete, and 1800 people would still be alive. Dubya would have found a way for his cronies to cash in.

As far as requests for assistance from the governor, was that an email request, or a formal, legal document? I think what you have is an email.

And I think you're hesitant to click a hyperlink and see the formal, legal document. Hate to ruin a good talking point... Man, even the White House had to give up on that excuse.

Admit it, you're looking for any tidbit of an issue you can bring up against W cause you're still mad he/we won the last two presidential races.


And you think we needed this? Does he have some kind of unblemished record for us to impugn?

John Harvey said...

Haha, my talking points are better than yours. Bottom line is y'all are still seething over W's win and will take any opportunity to slam him, whether he deserves it or not. Where is your outrage over Nagin and Blanco?

Freedonian said...

Haha, my talking points are better than yours.

Yes, but mine do have the advantage of being grounded in reality.

Bottom line is y'all are still seething over W's win and will take any opportunity to slam him, whether he deserves it or not.

Bottom line is, you're sticking up for him whether he deserves it or not. And in this case, he deserves it and much, much more.

Where is your outrage over Nagin and Blanco?

It's there. But once bloated corpses started floating down Canal Street, the crisis was far beyond what any local authority could take care of.

Hurricanes hit Florida several times a year. When it's his brother's state, Dubya declares a state of emergency the day before.

He sure wouldn't ignore calls for help from THAT governor for damn near a week.

Freedonian said...

Thank you, Princess Dabness!

John Harvey said...

I just saw a report by Sheppard Smith on - yep (Fox News) and he was lamenting the fact that New Orleans still doesn't have a comprehensive reconstruction plan. He contrast that with the Mississippi coast's redevelopment (they do have a plan) and the fact that Nagin won't do an interview.

Sheppard has been pointing the finger at everybody on the Katrina response, so you can't say he's just a Republican shill.

The difference between New Orleans, Mississippi and Florida is in leadership. MS and FL have some, LA doesn't.

Freedonian said...

I just saw a report by Sheppard Smith on - yep (Fox News) and he was lamenting the fact that New Orleans still doesn't have a comprehensive reconstruction plan.

Not sure if you're aware of this, but the reconstruction effort is not in local hands. The feds have been doling out those contracts, 70% without any competitive bidding.

So while I'm sure it was not your original intent... Thanks for backing me up on the whole "Bush is a schmuck" thing.

Sheppard has been pointing the finger at everybody on the Katrina response, so you can't say he's just a Republican shill.

Actually, I can say that quite easily. It's part of the job description at Fox unless you're the "token Dem" on one of their panel shows, and even then they don't hire anyone that stands to the left of Joe Lieberman.

He is nothing but a Republican shill. If he criticizes Bush on this, that shows you how screwed up Bush has been on this--- Not even Fox News can adequately lay down cover fire for him.

The difference between New Orleans, Mississippi and Florida is in leadership. MS and FL have some, LA doesn't.

No, the difference is that MS and FL were left inhabitable. For some time after the disaster, the NO government couldn't even work out of NO.