not safer, not by a long shot

According to the rhetoric, we’re safer under the Bush administration. Do you believe it? Can you honestly look at the mess along the Gulf Coast and tell me that you feel safer? Do you honestly think that these people we have running our country can protect us from a nuclear or biological attack? Or, if not protect us from an attack, at least deal with the consequences and contain the damage? Answer me honestly. Can you look at what’s going on right now in New Orleans and tell me that you’re comfortable putting your life, and the lives of your family members, into the hands of these people?

We all know what happened last week, right? A big storm, a hurricane, came up along the Gulf Coast and it did a hell of a lot of damage. Hundreds, if not thousands, probably died as the hurricane raged. Fortunately, we knew it was coming days in advance, and most people who had access to vehicles, or the money for transportation, got out of the area. Those that didn’t got fucked. And they continued to get fucked long after Hurricane Katrina dissipated. (I don’t know if it can ever be proven, but it seems likely that more people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, once the levees broke in New Orleans, than during the storm itself.)

Yeah. I know. It was a natural disaster… That doesn’t mean that someone’s not to blame though.

Sure, it could be true that even if the levee projects were fully funded by Bush, they still might have given in under the onslaught of a category 4 hurricane, but we’ll never know. They weren’t fully funded and they failed.

And, yes, maybe New Orleans shouldn’t have been built there in the first place, but what the fuck can we do about that now? It was built there, and we knew it was in danger. Bush has been president for five years now, and that’s been the case since day one of his first term. Maybe you can excuse him (maybe) for not realizing the extent of the danger when, early in his presidency, he was handed an intelligence briefing entitled, “bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States,” but how can you give him the benefit of the doubt this time, when you know for certain that he’s been warned repeatedly, right up until just days before this hurricane hit, when he was asked by the state of Louisiana for funds to expedite an evacuation?

Even if the storm couldn’t have been stopped, and even if it was impossible to get out some portion of the population, who, for whatever reason, wouldn’t leave, there is absolutely no excuse for the way that the federal government dropped the ball after the storm moved on, the levees broke, and the city of New Orleans filled up with water like a steaming bowl of toxic soup.

The President, I think it’s clear to all of us who were paying attention, didn’t do a damned thing… The Vice President stayed on vacation… And the Secretary of State continued playing tennis and shopping for shoes in New York… Dealing with America’s most devastating natural disaster of oour generation, it’s clear, was not a priority.

Finally, when FEMA was roused to respond, they did so to the detriment of the survivors trapped in the city, turning away trucks with fresh water, banning the Red Cross from bringing in food and supplies, and doing little to nothing to provide food, water, and security themselves. (To make matters worse, FEMA saw this as an opportunity to further blur the line between church and state by directing people looking to make financial contributions from their US government website to televangelist Pat Robertson’s “faith based” organization, Operation Blessing.)

Then, when asked by the press why there were still thousands of people, several days after the hurricane, who were still assembled at the New Orleans Convention Center, waiting for food and water, Mike Brown, the Director of FEMA, said that he’d just learned about those people on the television news. Surprising no one, it soon afterward came to light that Brown, the head of the federal emergency response organization, actually didn’t even have a relevant background in disaster recovery. Here’s a clip from Knight Ridder:

Brown’s ticket to FEMA was Joe Allbaugh, President Bush’s 2000 campaign manager and an old friend of Brown’s in Oklahoma. When Bush ran for president in 2000, Brown was ending a rocky tenure at the horse association.

At FEMA, Brown rose from general counsel to deputy director within a year. Bush named him to succeed Allbaugh in February 2003. With FEMA now part of the Department of Homeland Security, Brown’s title is undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response

That’s right, the man in charge of emergency preparedness for the world’s only superpower is the fellow who was, just a few years ago, asked to step down as the head of the International Arabian Horse Association due to incompetence… As Bush had failed at everything he’d ever set out to do, maybe he had a soft spot for the guy. Maybe he was thinking that all he needed was a second chance, like him, to be born again. Who the fuck knows? Whatever it was, it wasn’t reason enough to gamble with our lives. Bush might love his friends, and take good care of them, and that might be really swell if he were, let’s say, a guy running a restaurant who decides to hire an old, down-on-his-luck college buddy to deliver pizzas. But Bush is the President of the United States and his decisions have consequences.

And, while we’re on the subject, I’m sure some of his decision to promote Brown had to do with his (Bush’s) disdain for latte-drinking “experts” and their fancy “book learnin’.” Again, what might be acceptable in a small town businessman doesn’t work so well in the real world, when you’re responsible for millions of lives. In the real world, we should value expartise and training.

So, he hire’s a fellow who’s inept to handle disasters, and thousands of people die. Babies die of dehydration after waiting days, at a location people were told to go to, for water. Old people, not having access to their medication, lie dead in the streets, being eaten by rats.

Here’s how bad it was – even FOX News reporters couldn’t contain their dismay over the lack of leadership being exhibited by the administration, FEMA and Homeland Security.

The administration finally responds, now about six days into things, after hustling some food and water in (we assume by the same routes blazed by the likes of Harry Conic Jr, who’d somehow found his way in days earler, along with a bunch of NBC personnel), by having the president fly in for a few photo ops. We see him standing bravely in front of two Coast Guard helicopters (which could have otherwise been saving people’s lives) and shaking the hands of the pilots (who probably would have rather been rescuing people) and thanking them for their heroic service. Then, like Katrina herlself, the wildly accelerating political spin begins.

Over the weekend, Mike Brown is pulled from the public spotlight and replaced by Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security, who calmly explains that non of this could have been predicted. Which causes me some degree of concern as I expect if there ever is a nuclear or biological attack on US soil, that we probably won’t have any written warning ahead of time. (Isn’t his job to prepare for that which can’t be predicted? Isn’t that the whole fucking point?) And, like Brown before him, he continues to assert that he didn’t know anything about the 25 thousand people at the Convention Center until he saw it Tuesday on television.

I want to go on and on about this, but I need to sleep. The important thing is that you realize that we are not safer and that our country is being dismantled in front of our eyes. I don’t consider myself an alarmist, or a reactionary, but I really do think that what’s being done right now is a bit more significant than a philandering husband getting a blowjob in the Oval Office. Our nation is being systematically destroyed to an extent that couldn’t have even been dreamed of by Osama bin Laden, and someone really needs to begin impeachment proceedings… This isn’t about winning elections any more. This is about saving our country.

Rapper Kanye West said during a televised fundraiser for the victims of the hurricane that Bush doesn’t care about black people. I think he’s right. But, I think the problem goes deeper than that. This isn’t just about racism, and the fact that Bush probably would have mobilized the military a hell of a lot quicker if a handful of his elderly white fundraisers had been stranded on an island somewhere. What we just saw happen in New Orleans is the intersection of every single thread that we’ve been following for the past five years… The purposeful starving of the government by the passing of irresponsible tax cuts, the subsequent cuts in services and infrastructure, the growing underclass of working poor, the use of our National Guard in Iraq at the expense of local areas, the rewarding of loyal political operatives with jobs beyond their depth, the disdain for science and expertise, the hollowness of so-called “faith based” initiatives… You name it, it all comes to a point in New Orleans. Ineptitude. Hubris. Lack of compassion. Inability to function within the confines of reality… It’s all right here. We just need to help everyone else see it.

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33 Comments

  1. Shanster
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Mark-
    You make a lot of valid points about incompetence and failure within the administration. Rather than quibble with any of the minor points I disagree with (what do you care if Robertson’s group gets money from private citizens to help private citizens, even if there is a federal link?), I have to disagree about impeachment. I pointed this out to Republicans during Clinton’s case: what would it gain? The VP becoming president? Does anyone want that? My guess is no, and I don’t think its possible to have a mass Nurnberg trial of the administration and declare them all guilty. You will still be left with a Republican leader. Let’s just go and rebuild the coast to a reasonable extent and work together constructively. Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their country. With current sentiment, we could get such good positive lasting reform and legislation through congress, why waste our time sniping?

  2. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Bush doesn’t care about black people? But he promised to come back and sit on Trent Lott’s front porch; I’m sure they’ll need black people to bring drinks as they reminisce about segregation.

    FEMA was also cutting emergency phone lines. Why?

    And am I the only one who finds Bush’s promise of “a tidal wave of compassion” bizarrely inappropriate?

  3. Posted September 6, 2005 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    No, Doug, you are not the only one who finds that that statement incredibly inappropriate.

    And Amen to everything you wrote, Mark! You always say what I’m thinking but get too bogged in my impotent rage to say.

  4. Teddy Glass
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Shanster, I think you’re missing the point. We cannot allow these people to continue moving us down the path they’ve got charted for us. Impeachment would raise public awareness, show the international community that we’ve regained our sanity, and effectively neuter this administration, making it impossible for them to push through any more legislation (at least without clear bipartisan support). It’s a dramatic, disruptive event, but we need that right now. We need a clear break, and nothing can accomplish that like impeachment. And, most importantly of all, it’s deserved.

  5. Posted September 6, 2005 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Blame the victims!

  6. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    And — the link to Robertson was truly disgusting; not because he’s religious, but because he just called for the assassination of a head of state. The administration says he’s “just a private citizen,” and then helps him raise funds?

  7. Shanster
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Doug-
    I wasn’t thinking of the recent context, so I guess it was a little daft for them to link to his site in light of his assassination call. Mark’s comment was in reference to the blurring of the line between church and state in donations, which I truly don’t care about as long as the institution is passing along the donations without fraud.
    Teddy-
    I do see the point…gridlock is better than more catastrophe. But there’s got to be a better third choice… anyone?

  8. Posted September 6, 2005 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    As long as these people are in charge there will be no mitigating catastrophe.

    Deciding to de-fund mitigation is a huge problem.

    When you do away with mitigation you’re left with a cycle catastrophe and then reconstruction which is far more profitable than mitigation. Of course it’s costlier in human life.

    This administration is willing to gamble with human life. They must go, there is no “third choice”.

  9. anonymatt
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have time to argue politics during the week, but I’d like to just interject that Bob Denver is dead.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/front/breaking_news/story/343822p-293569c.html

    RIP, little buddy.

  10. kez
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    mark, what i can’t believe is how every fuckin’ news station in the entire country was broadcasting from NOLA & Biloxi within minutes after the storm from their TV trucks, and the FEMA says the routes were “impassable”… and another thing… on NBC News they showed about forty school buses within five miles of flood waters not being used, just parked in a high school lot…

  11. chris
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    This event has brought every paranoid delusion I have managed to supress into full blown reality. I feel like I have been told that I have cancer, or that I am sentenced to twenty years in solitary confinement… Jesus Christ!!!! It is too much. The more information that comes out the more incredulous it becomes. I can’t stomach anymore but it just keeps coming.

    This whole experience is a sign of a dieing democracy. And those few of you here who feel that not placing blame is important…all I have to say is, what will it take to make you realize that you’re next. That white entitlement can only go so far before you too get swallowed up by this apocolyptic incompetance.

    I am sure that you have heard that two policemen have committed suicide. I shudder to think what despair these two experienced that forced then to that end.

    I was here in NYC for 9/11, and without even being in New Orleans all I can say is that this is FAR worse. And here is the thing, not only do those motherfuckers sleep at night but they also go shoe shopping. Jesus, I can’t even eat.

    Is anybody else out there freaking out to the point of a psychotic break? Maybe my lizard brain will take over and I will shut down. And who knows, w/ the right amount of propogandistic (yes, Shanster I know that is not a word) programming I too will be blaming the victims.

    I have heard that the Times Picayune paper in Louisianna is doing a direct to family donation program. I will research it, there would be no 30% overhead like there is with Red Cross.

  12. chris
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    And yes Mark, your thesis is absolutely correct, irrefutable, and eloquent. Again, I think it is going to take a Dead Zone situation to get rid of this administration. And doesn’t Roberts look like Satan from Damien, Omen III? Somehow I think in a freaky cosmic world this is all related to Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court. OK, I guess I am getting closer to that psychotic break.

  13. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Shanster — I don’t care about the church-state connection in this context either. But Robertson’s assassination call was criminal; and the federal link was not just daft, but wrong. It’s a small thing the overall scheme; but it’s all too typical of the arrogance, incompetence, cronyism, and hypocrisy that have poisoned this administration.

    On another note — I heard from my friend Jim Turner, who hosts a TV show for diabetics; those of you concerned about the special plight of diabetics can donate through http://www.dLife.com.

  14. Dick Cheney's Extending Taint
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    “Almost everyone I

  15. Dick Cheney's Extending Taint
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    And if Barbara doesn’t piss you off enough:

    http://www.sltrib.com/utah/ci_3004197

  16. Posted September 7, 2005 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Chris I recommend reading some life affirming childrens books, Daniel Pinkwater is good, or Madeline L’engle or the harriet the spy series or Gone Away Lake or whatever. Im serious, this and cartoons is how I keep from going crazy or killing myself- I just give myself a break and escape for a little while, and come back refreshed and strenghteneed by the idea that people are still trying to give children a decent moral compass. It gives me something to believe in and it gives my head a chance to rest.
    I think you have kids right? so if you need to you can do research on what you’d like to see them reading at the same time.
    Im serious, don’t let them make you lose it (Your mind, your compassion or your resolve or whatever), They dont deserve the win and we cant afford to lose folks like you.

  17. Shanster
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Stella-
    Thanks for the recommendations. Daniel Pinkwater is hilarious, and so is L’engle.
    If Stella and I can agree on something, it must be objectively good. Maybe you’ve already read them, but I just finished reading a collection of David Sedaris’ works, which are usually funny and uplifting.

  18. chris
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Stella, I am currently trying to get a hold of all the Studio Ghibli Miyazake films. The one I really want to get is “My Neighbor Totorro” the Japanese version w/ English dubbing. Somehow the overflow anxiety is going partly into this endeavor.

  19. chris
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Anyone readng BoingBoing regarding the active censorship in Houston and New Orleans? My personal favorite is the mysterious jamming of radio waves from the city to prevent broadcasting from w/in the city. Some people believe it is the govt. Also, FEMA has requested that Reuters not publish photos of the dead.

    Read it, I would say the reporting borders on the surreal.

  20. john galt
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    from todays NYT

    Blame Amid the Tragedy
    Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin failed their constituents.

    BY BOB WILLIAMS
    Wednesday, September 7, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

    As the devastation of Hurricane Katrina continues to shock and sadden the nation, the question on many lips is, Who is to blame for the inadequate response?

    As a former state legislator who represented the legislative district most impacted by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, I can fully understand and empathize with the people and public officials over the loss of life and property.

    Many in the media are turning their eyes toward the federal government, rather than considering the culpability of city and state officials. I am fully aware of the challenges of having a quick and responsive emergency response to a major disaster. And there is definitely a time for accountability; but what isn’t fair is to dump on the federal officials and avoid those most responsible–local and state officials who failed to do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is, lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana’s governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city’s mayor, Ray Nagin.

    The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his emergency operations center.

    The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved.

    In addition to the plans, local, state and federal officials held a simulated hurricane drill 13 months ago, in which widespread flooding supposedly trapped 300,000 people inside New Orleans. The exercise simulated the evacuation of more than a million residents. The problems identified in the simulation apparently were not solved.

    A year ago, as Hurricane Ivan approached, New Orleans ordered an evacuation but did not use city or school buses to help people evacuate. As a result many of the poorest citizens were unable to evacuate. Fortunately, the hurricane changed course and did not hit New Orleans, but both Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin acknowledged the need for a better evacuation plan. Again, they did not take corrective actions. In 1998, during a threat by Hurricane George, 14,000 people were sent to the Superdome and theft and vandalism were rampant due to inadequate security. Again, these problems were not corrected.

    The New Orleans contingency plan is still, as of this writing, on the city’s Web site, and states: “The safe evacuation of threatened populations is one of the principle [sic] reasons for developing a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.” But the plan was apparently ignored.

    Mayor Nagin was responsible for giving the order for mandatory evacuation and supervising the actual evacuation: His Office of Emergency Preparedness (not the federal government) must coordinate with the state on elements of evacuation and assist in directing the transportation of evacuees to staging areas. Mayor Nagin had to be encouraged by the governor to contact the National Hurricane Center before he finally, belatedly, issued the order for mandatory evacuation. And sadly, it apparently took a personal call from the president to urge the governor to order the mandatory evacuation.

    The city’s evacuation plan states: “The city of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas.” But even though the city has enough school and transit buses to evacuate 12,000 citizens per fleet run, the mayor did not use them. To compound the problem, the buses were not moved to high ground and were flooded. The plan also states that “special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific lifesaving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed.” This was not done.

    The evacuation plan warned that “if an evacuation order is issued without the mechanisms needed to disseminate the information to the affected persons, then we face the possibility of having large numbers of people either stranded and left to the mercy of a storm, or left in an area impacted by toxic materials.” That is precisely what happened because of the mayor’s failure.

    Instead of evacuating the people, the mayor ordered the refugees to the Superdome and Convention Center without adequate security and no provisions for food, water and sanitary conditions. As a result people died, and there was even rape committed, in these facilities. Mayor Nagin failed in his responsibility to provide public safety and to manage the orderly evacuation of the citizens of New Orleans. Now he wants to blame Gov. Blanco and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In an emergency the first requirement is for the city’s emergency center to be linked to the state emergency operations center. This was not done.

    The federal government does not have the authority to intervene in a state emergency without the request of a governor. President Bush declared an emergency prior to Katrina hitting New Orleans, so the only action needed for federal assistance was for Gov. Blanco to request the specific type of assistance she needed. She failed to send a timely request for specific aid.

    In addition, unlike the governors of New York, Oklahoma and California in past disasters, Gov. Blanco failed to take charge of the situation and ensure that the state emergency operation facility was in constant contact with Mayor Nagin and FEMA. It is likely that thousands of people died because of the failure of Gov. Blanco to implement the state plan, which mentions the possible need to evacuate up to one million people. The plan clearly gives the governor the authority for declaring an emergency, sending in state resources to the disaster area and requesting necessary federal assistance.

    State legislators and governors nationwide need to update their contingency plans and the operation procedures for state emergency centers. Hurricane Katrina had been forecast for days, but that will not always be the case with a disaster (think of terrorist attacks). It must be made clear that the governor and locally elected officials are in charge of the “first response.”

    I am not attempting to excuse some of the delays in FEMA’s response. Congress and the president need to take corrective action there, also. However, if citizens expect FEMA to be a first responder to terrorist attacks or other local emergencies (earthquakes, forest fires, volcanoes), they will be disappointed. The federal government’s role is to offer aid upon request.

    The Louisiana Legislature should conduct an immediate investigation into the failures of state and local officials to implement the written emergency plans. The tragedy is not over, and real leadership in the state and local government are essential in the months to come. More importantly, the hurricane season is still upon us, and local and state officials must stay focused on the jobs for which they were elected–and not on the deadly game of passing the emergency buck.

  21. Posted September 7, 2005 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Galt,

    So, if I understand your point, the people who were responsible are now enlisting their minions to defend their behavior, a role the author fills admirably.

    Exhibit A, Bob Williams, president of a disturbed right-wing, pro-privatization think tank.

    Keep arguing, Mr. Galt.

  22. mark
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Don’t worry, John, there’s plenty of blame to go around and I’m sure a fair number of Democrats will get nailed before this is done. It seems to me, however, that FEMA is the organization that deserves most of the culpability.

  23. Jim
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    John, since you’ve returned to your technique of argumentation-by-spam, allow me to respond with argumentation-by-link:
    http://mediamatters.org/items/200509080002
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/9/5/225729/7487

    The advantages of linking over cutting and pasting entire articles are that linking doesn’t violate copyright laws, and it doesn’t piss people off.

  24. Dave Morris
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the links, Jim.

    I think it is important for critics of the federal government to make the distinction between the “federal government” that is the body of employees and the “federal government” that is the willfully negligent leadership. As others here have pointed out, this could be used as an argument against large federal government- the likely “refuge of last resort”.

  25. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another link: there’s a disturbing report by an Oklahoma blogger of her visit to a FEMA camp at http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/fema.html.

    I hadn’t seen this before; my apologies if it’s old news…

  26. chris
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Shanster, I forgot to thank you for oyur suggestions as well. I was acctually surprised that you read Sedaris, you do know that he is gay don’t you?

  27. Posted September 8, 2005 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Link is not working Doug, my immediate thought of course goes to censorship……but I’m the paranoid type

  28. john galt
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    history of the levees

    http://www.techcentralstation.com/090205F.html

  29. mark
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Here

  30. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 8, 2005 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark.

    By the way, I once performed on the same bill as David Sedaris, and can report that he’s a very nice man, as well as a funny one. Buy his books!

  31. Tony Buttons
    Posted September 9, 2005 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Look for Mike Brown at an Arabian horse show near you — Despite what Bush said earlier, it looks now as though the top man at FEMA might be getting sacrificed.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4231170.stm

    As for Sedaris, I just wanted to add that he’s extremely short, and rumored to be a French speaker.

  32. Tony Buttons
    Posted September 9, 2005 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Kanye West’s “George Bush Doesn’t Like Black People” remix.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2005/09/08/katrina_kanye_remixe.html

  33. Anonymous
    Posted September 22, 2005 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Customers sux
    Funny, so funny

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