shock & awe (for real this time)
My pants are ablaze. I promised new posts this week, but I failed to do so. I just can't bring myself to catch up on posts about the Six Feet Under finale or the release of New Porn's Twin Cinema, nor can I finish write-ups on the Gogol Bordello show I attended a couple weeks back or the newly leaked Blackalicious disc. I won't even start on my getting a new cellphone.
I had yesterday off, and I spent it watching/reading about the aftermath...
Editorial from yesterday's NY Times:
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.
We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.
Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.
While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?
It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.
CNN's Jack Cafferty on yesterday's Situation Room (via Atrios):
The thing that’s most glaring in all this is that the conditions continue to deteriorate for the people who are victims in this, and the efforts to do something about it don’t seem to be anywhere in sight. I want to read you something, Wolf. This is a quote from an editorial:
"A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource. The cool, confident intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months following 9/11, has vanished."
Now that’s not from some liberal rag; that is an editorial from one of the most conservative newspapers in the country, New Hampshire’s Union Leader. the New York Times, not unexpectedly, kind of chimed in. They said the president showed up a day later than he was needed and they excoriate him for appearing "casual to the point of carelessness." Harsh words coming from FEMA’s former disaster response chief, Eric Tolber [sp?]: ‘The government was not ready and shifted its attention from natural disaster to fighting the war on terror.’
The questions we ask on The Situation Room every afternoon, Wolf, are posted on the website 2 to 3 hours before we go on the air, and people who read the website often begin to respond to the questions before the show actually starts. The question this hour is: How would you rate the response of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina?
I’ve got to tell you something, we got 500-600 letters before the show even went on the air. No one -- no one -- says the federal government is doing a good job in handling one of the most atrocious and embarrassing and far-reaching and calamitous things that has come along in this country in my lifetime. I’m 62, I remember the riots in Watts, I remember the earthquake in San Francisco. I remember a lot of things. I have never, ever, seen anything as badly bungled and poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans.
Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can’t sandwiches be dropped to those people who are in that Superdome down there? I mean, what is going - this is Thursday. This storm happened five days ago. It’s a disgrace, and don’t think the world isn’t watching. This is the government the taxpayers are paying for, and it’s fallen right flat on its face, as far as I can see, in the way it’s handled this thing.
Today's column from Paul Krugman:
Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans. "The New Orleans hurricane scenario," The Houston Chronicle wrote in December 2001, "may be the deadliest of all." It described a potential catastrophe very much like the one now happening.
So why were New Orleans and the nation so unprepared? After 9/11, hard questions were deferred in the name of national unity, then buried under a thick coat of whitewash. This time, we need accountability.
First question: Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive? Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear by last Friday that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast. Yet the response you'd expect from an advanced country never happened. Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out without help - and help wasn't provided. Many have yet to receive any help at all.
There will and should be many questions about the response of state and local governments; in particular, couldn't they have done more to help the poor and sick escape? But the evidence points, above all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and urgency in the federal government's response.
Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered into action. "On Wednesday," said an editorial in The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., "reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!"
Maybe administration officials believed that the local National Guard could keep order and deliver relief. But many members of the National Guard and much of its equipment - including high-water vehicles - are in Iraq. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," a Louisiana Guard officer told reporters several weeks ago.
Second question: Why wasn't more preventive action taken? After 2003 the Army Corps of Engineers sharply slowed its flood-control work, including work on sinking levees. "The corps," an Editor and Publisher article says, citing a series of articles in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, "never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security - coming at the same time as federal tax cuts - was the reason for the strain."
In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending.
Third question: Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA's effectiveness? The administration has, by all accounts, treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild, leading to a mass exodus of experienced professionals.
Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."
I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.
At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice.
Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk.
So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying.
Scott Gold of the LA Times on revolting conditions (via Huff Post):
The Louisiana Superdome, once a mighty testament to architecture and ingenuity, became the biggest storm shelter in New Orleans the day before Katrina's arrival Monday. About 16,000 people eventually settled in.
By Wednesday, it had degenerated into horror. A few hundred people were evacuated from the arena Wednesday, and buses will take away the vast majority of refugees today.
"We pee on the floor. We are like animals," said Taffany Smith, 25, as she cradled her 3-week-old son, Terry. In her right hand she carried a half-full bottle of formula provided by rescuers. Baby supplies are running low; one mother said she was given two diapers and told to scrape them off when they got dirty and use them again.
At least two people, including a child, have been raped. At least three people have died, including one man who jumped 50 feet to his death, saying he had nothing left to live for.
The hurricane left most of southern Louisiana without power, and the arena, which is in the central business district of New Orleans, was not spared. The air conditioning failed immediately and a swampy heat filled the dome.
An emergency generator kept some lights on, but quickly failed. Engineers have worked feverishly to keep a backup generator running, at one point swimming under the floodwater to knock a hole in the wall to install a new diesel fuel line. But the backup generator is now faltering and almost entirely submerged.
There is no sanitation. The stench is overwhelming. The city's water supply, which had held up since Sunday, gave out early Wednesday, and toilets in the Superdome became inoperable and began to overflow.
"There is feces on the walls," said Bryan Hebert, 43, who arrived at the Superdome on Monday. "There is feces all over the place."
The Superdome is patrolled by more than 500 Louisiana National Guard troops, many of whom carry machine guns as sweaty, smelly people press against metal barricades that keep them from leaving, shouting as the soldiers pass by: "Hey! We need more water! We need help!"
"The conditions are steadily declining," said Maj. Ed Bush. "The systems have done all they can do. We don't know how much longer we can hold on. The game now is to squeeze everything we can out of the Superdome and then get out."
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said Wednesday that more than 100 buses were staged outside the city for today's evacuation. He had asked officials in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La., to send all of their school buses — about 500 — to New Orleans. If all of the buses make it into the city, Nagin said, the Superdome could be cleared out by nightfall today.
"This is a nuthouse," said April Thomas, 42, who fled to the Superdome with her 11 children. She has enlisted the older boys to take turns walking patrols at night as the rest of the family sleeps.
"You have to fend people off constantly," she said. "You have to fight for your life. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I say is: Where are my babies? Is everyone here?"
There's a thriving black market; the most popular items are cigarettes, which sell for $10 a pack, and anti-diuretics, which allow people to avoid using the bathroom for as long as possible.
Many of the injured, the elderly and the critically ill, and those suffering from dehydration, have been taken across a walkway to an adjoining sports center, the New Orleans Arena.
One man was lying partway on a cot, his legs flopped off the side, a forgotten blood pressure monitor attached to his right arm. Some people had wrapped plastic bags on their feet to escape the urine and wastewater seeping from piles of trash. Others, fearing the onset of disease, had surgical masks over their mouths. An alarm had been going off for more than 24 hours and no one knew how to turn it off.
Kos diarist mcolley, on the GOP:
The Right, as embodied by Limbaugh, Frist, Bush, Hastert, DeLay. They would move heaven and earth to save the life of one White Woman in Florida to combat the very idea of euthanasia (which technically it was not). A woman that a decade earlier had lost her ability to so much as ask for help, much less have coherent thoughts about the quality of her own life.
And they would sit on their ass and watch as tens of thousands of poor men, women, children, babies, and elderly bake in the New Orleans heat surrounded by water, sewage, gasoline and an abandoned city, now devoid of anyone with the means to have escaped ahead of the storm.
This is the culture of life. The culture of life wants to save brain dead white women and unborn children. The culture of life wants you to watch endless non-news about the disappearance of one white teenager in Aruba. The culture of life wants you to support your nation as it kills tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in its Quixotic quest against a non-threat. The culture of life wants a zero-tolerance for looters policy to sound authoritative as babies die of dehydration. The culture of life expects you to take care of yourself, and if you can't, then it is your own fault for getting into that situation in the first place. Fuck off. You had your shot. Station in life, where you hang your hat, and whether you have the $40 at the end of the month to pay for the overpriced gasoline to get out of that home in time is all up to you.
Always I have argued with Republican friends--the reasonable ones--that not everyone was dealt the same cards on their original Birth Day. Not everyone has been given the same gifts by God, friends, family, or luck. Always those Republican friends believe that they deserve where they have gotten in life, and that no one, including the government, should be asking for their hard-earned cash to help the less affluent. It is always the fault of the lesser-affluent themselves. Circumstances are irrelevant in all cases and constitute class warfare if the question is raised.
But that's their thing. That's how they see the world. They earned everything they got. Their parents might have given them a nudge, but nothing more. Get a f**king clue.
Bush came away from his mega vacation one day early...Wednesday. Hastert doesn't know why we should rebuild. Condie Rice went to the show on Broadway.
All of these people support the Culter of Life. But none seem to support American Culture. New Orleans, as much as any city, represents distinctly American Culture. A melting-pot of language, music and revelry unlike any other. But it is desperately poor. Over 50% of the children in the state live below the poverty level. But no matter. Mostly black folk down there. They shouldn't have lived there in the first place. They should have gotten out while they had the chance. It's their own fault.
Michael Chertoff was interviewed on NPR this afternoon. He was asked if he had heard of thousands of people at the Convention Center in New Orleans, without water or food or sanitation. Elderly dying. Little girls being raped. Mr. Chertoff was eloquent in his cluelessness. Completely unaware of what had been on the television all day long on both MSNBC and CNN. Unaware that he, at the top of the agency charged with bringing relief to the affected areas, had not been informed of something every American with a remote already knew. That the situation there was desperate. That people needed help. And that noone seemed to be providing it. The man in charge was not in charge at all, folks. It took the Bush Administration 4 years since 9/11... 4 years of chasing ghosts and old demons in Iraq to not do a f**king thing about stateside preparedness. To gut the national guard's responsiveness by sending so many of them overseas. To cut funding for the levee system that allowed Lake Ponchartrain to roll into the city. To put someone in charge of Homeland Security and FEMA that is eloquent, but so impossibly incompetent that he is incapable of establishing a staff capable of letting him know the worst of a situation so large.
Photos via Flickr. ETA: Brad points to a powerful photo set by Percy Bell.
Horrible. Just horrible. I felt like I had been socked in the gut all afternoon. I became kinda furious. I even found myself watching cable news, which for the most part was actually harrowing & well done. While the folks at Air America were spectacularly outraged (yes, more than usual) - check out yesterday's editions of Randi Rhodes & the Majority Report - the formerly-cowed mainstream media was actually critical of the federal government's inability to get aid to the survivors, as well as President Bush's lack of leadership during and after the disaster (via Armando). Even right-leaning journalists came back to reality, finally able to put aside partisanship in the wake of the utterly disgusting (again via Atrios) chaos bred out of the desperation & anger of a battered city's impoverished refugees, who could wait no longer for help to arrive. I can't imagine the level of rage these poor suffering people might have reached had they heard them being blamed for their own situation by FEMA director Michael Brown (more Atrios).
Shocked. Appalled. Disgusted. Break out the thesaurus, there I am.
Donate if you can. Pitch in with other Liberal bloggers who are doing so.
MP3 Mayor Ray Nagin's angry, desperate plea for help (9.1.05)
Regular programming will return soon, when it's appropriate.
BTW: While the gulf coast was drowning, nearly a thousand Iraqis were killed in a bridge stampede caused by a suicide bomb scare. Just an FYI.
ETA: Whether or not you agree with his stuffing the race card down our throats, Kanye West still has ginormous balls. Video @ Crooks & Liars.
Weekend Update (9/4/05): NY Times columnists Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd & of all people David Brooks (!) each take Bush & company to task.