Monday, September 5, 2005

"As ugly of a scene as I think you can imagine."

The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home, and every day she called him and said, `Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' And he said, `And yeah, Momma, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday' — and she drowned Friday night. She drowned on Friday night.
-- a strained and weeping Aaron Broussard said, Jefferson Parish LA president, on NBC's "Meet the Press"

That's the beginning of a disjointed post. It's a quote that I thought sums up, as best anything can, just what the hell is going on. Or not going on.

What kind of country is this? What kind of government do we have that can't properly channel its resources to a major city within hours of a known disaster to care for and evacuate its residents? Warming oceans may or may not be responsible for an increase in violent super-hurricanes and typhoons, but it is humans alone that are responsible for what is done or not done in the aftermath.

America is doing some deep soul-searching as the Bush Administration does damage control about how the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) dropped the ball over and over again.
People are angry.

Is it fair to blame the President or his administration? They certainly didn't cause the category-5 Hurricane Katrina? Even if they had been poised to immediately step in to rescue those who couldn't or wouldn't leave, there still would have been dozens or even hundreds of deaths.

But we don't have dozens of deaths. Secretary of Health & Human Services Michael Leavitt told CNN, "I think it's evident [the death toll]'s in the thousands." The thousands.

The thousands.

AP reports that "bodies are everywhere: floating in canals, slumped in wheelchairs, abandoned on highways and medians, and hidden in attics."

And then there is the ugly question of race. There's the now-infamous
photo descriptions of a White couple "finding" bread and soda and a Black man "looting," even though they were engaged in the the exact same activity.

Jodi at
AsiaPages read an article by a Donga Ilbo reporter and was angered that the Korean reporter seemed to be gratuitously inserting race into an already volatile situation, but the fact is that America is abuzz with such talk. Not only in the blogosphere and the news media, but even on fundraising programs.

Did the criminal negligence that occurred happen because of a disregard for the mostly poor, Black residents of the affected areas? As Kanye West put it, does George Bush not care about Black people?

My own personal opinion is one shared by New Orleans Mayor Nagin, that this is a class issue, not a race issue. It just happens to be that the vast majority of poor in New Orleans are Black, especially given that two-thirds of the entire population (poor and not poor) is Black.

The evacuation plans drawn up by the Feds and other powers that be assumed people had personal transportion to get out. The poor of New Orleans--Black, White, and otherwise--didn't have that luxury and they were left to fend for themselves.

I don't know if a lack of decisive action after that had anything to do with the fact that the stranded victims were poor and/or Black. Were some people thinking, "Why should I care? Those people should have evacuated when they were told to!"

Ultimately, the lack of preparation may be less a symptom of class issues or race issues and just due to plain old government negligence. In early 2001, FEMA wrote up a category-5 hit on New Orleans as one of its top-three disaster scenarios, along with a terror attack on New York City and a major quake in San Francisco. The Army Corps of Engineers had been saying the levees needed major work. New Orleans and Louisiana had asked for the money. The Bush Administration apparently cut the funding however, to make money for tax cuts and the War in Iraq, according to some critics.

Then Bush with his smug little grin gets up and
says, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

You don't think, Mr. President.

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