The State We’re In

Relief efforts (and relief prevention)

More links about the unfolding disaster. It looks as if resources are finally being mobilized to begin to help out under the direction of Lt. Gen. Russel Honre, but there are still many signs of a disorganized response, both on the ground and at the policy level. Particularly shocking to me are the many examples of offers of aid being spurned: offers from at home and abroad are being rejected. It’s also a shock to learn that the authorities are refusing to allow victims to walk out of New Orleans, literally turning them back and forcing them to go back to where there is neither food nor water nor public order. [On Fox, though, Bill O’Reilly says the victims, most too poor to have any transport, brought their troubles on themselves because they chose not to leave! Guess that lets off the administration for any blame, right?] And a tiny part of the reason why there is nothing there is that the authorities are also not allowing public-spirited persons to deliver supplies to the desperate. That’s right: the authorities are penning people in and keeping them destitute. And ordering the Red Cross to keep out. You read that right: our government is standing between the Red Cross and desperate Americans in New Orleans.

Outside of New Orleans, i.e. in places where the big media searchlight has yet to penetrate, they’re still waiting for the first hint of federal help.

We’re in a state

A British commentator says, “Lots of things about the US become easier to understand if you consider it as a very rich third world country…”

Indeed, in the USA, rich people staying at a Hyatt who are clean and well-fed get rushed to the front of the line for buses evacuating New Orleans–ahead of the poor folks trapped at the Convention Center.

Meanwhile, at least some elements of our military see the victims of the disaster as some sort of enemy to be pacified forcibly (“This place is going to look like Little Somalia,” Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force told Army Times Friday as hundreds of armed troops under his charge prepared to launch a massive citywide security mission from a staging area outside the Louisiana Superdome. “We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”).

And a guy who stole an abandoned bus in order to bus a load of people out of the disaster zone is not being congratulated or drafted into relief efforts. Nope, he’s being prosecuted.

Correction: in the better part of the third world, after the tsunami, people didn’t start mugging and pillaging.

Other international reactions, via the BBC. See also BBC, New Orleans Crisis Shames Americans.

The hapless state of FEMA

The US military was ready to begin emergency food drops into New Orleans much earlier in the week. But they were waiting on a request from FEMA. (See also Washington Post).

The formal Louisiana state request for FEMA involvement and disaster aid went out on Aug. 28, so the failure to respond can’t be put at the feet of local officials (this is another right wing spin point that is not based on reality).

CNN – yes CNN – truth squads official statements on the pace of disaster relief.

Homeland Security Secretary (and future scapegoat?) Michael Chertoff – FEMA’s boss’s boss – says you shouldn’t blame poor FEMA. After all, they haven’t got plans for dealing with a nuclear attack either. (I am NOT making this up.)

The clueless state of Bush

Bush visits Trent Lott’s destroyed vacation home (his main house is fine), and yukks it up. Marty Lederman reacts:

Staggering, no? For five days and nights, the Nation has been witness to devastation among a population that is predominantly poor and African-American. And the singular example of loss on which the President chooses to focus is an oceanfront property of none other than Trent Lott! Well, I don’t doubt that the President will, in fact, one day sit on the grand porch of the rebuilt Lott oceanfront (second) home, sipping an iced tea and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But isn’t this an especially inauspicious moment to be calling that image to mind?

And, as he notes, even Andrew Sullivan was appalled,

“Just think of that quote for a minute; and the laughter that followed. The poor and the black are dying, dead, drowned and desperate in New Orleans and elsewhere. But the president manages to talk about the future ‘fantastic’ porch of a rich, powerful white man who only recently resigned his position because he regretted the failure of Strom Thurmond to hold back the tide of racial desegregation.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Lott thinks the media are wrong to complain about the fine job of disaster relief being done by the feds.

It gets worse: Bush’s tour of the disaster area actually set back relief efforts : “We had arrangements to airlift food by helicopter to these folks, and now the food is sitting in trucks because they won’t let helicopters fly”.

UPDATE: UNBELIEVABLE – it’s even worse than that — Sen. Mary Landrieu says :

“I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims — far more efficiently than buses — FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

“But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment.”

Causes and cures

There’s a connection between this incompetent cluelessness and the bubble politics (GOP-only ‘town meetings’ for example) practiced by this administration. The American Street connects the dots. In that context it’s interesting that NBC censored an unscripted anti-Bush remark from its hurricane relief concert. Would a pro-Bush adlib have been censored too? Unlikely.

Michael Bérubé adds his inimitable voice to the chorus. And Brian Leiter says Now is the Perfect Time to Assign Blame and Responsibility.

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8 Responses to The State We’re In

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  2. Willie Buck Merle says:

    Nice Compilation Post. I read at the WP website that the Bush administration is shifting blame to the State & City governments. So if a terrorist strikes your town or major city with a nuclear bomb, better get a hold of the mayor’s secretary to issue your hazmat gear.

  3. RedWolf says:

    As appropriate in a Third World Country, the current regime should be promptly replaced by a caretaker president, my recommendation Clinton. We’ll get competence, 21st Century thinking, science and reality will again be legal and, of course, sex will be possible when the current impotents will be gone.

  4. drs says:

    I certainly believe that rich people were evacuated first. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. But I can’t see how you get that from the AP story you are linking to. Do you have another source for that?

    Regardless, this whole situation has been a sad and embarrassing debacle.

  5. Michael says:

    I got the evacuation idea from the last paragraph of the story I linked to, which says, “At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line — much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday.”

    You can read more details here and here (“How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?” exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.) and here (National Guard Capt. John Pollard called the decision to move the Hyatt people to the head of the line “very poor.”)


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