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 Guards 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. “Were 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.
The hapless state of FEMA
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).
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.”
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”.
“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.