Saturday, September 10, 2005
From "Casualty of Firestorm: Outrage, Bush and FEMA Chief" [excerpts]
The New York Times September 10
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
To Democrats, Republicans, local officials and Hurricane Katrina's victims, the question was not why, but what took so long?
Republicans had been pressing the White House for days to fire "Brownie," Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who had stunned many television viewers in admitting that he did not know until 24 hours after the first news reports that there was a swelling crowd of 25,000 people desperate for food and water at the New Orleans convention center.
Mr. Brown, who was removed from his Gulf Coast duties on Friday, though not from his post as FEMA's chief, is the first casualty of the political furor generated by the government's faltering response to the hurricane. With Democrats and Republicans caustically criticizing the performance of his agency, and with the White House under increasing attack for populating FEMA's top ranks with politically connected officials who lack disaster relief experience, Mr. Brown had become a symbol of President Bush's own hesitant response.
Behind the president's public embrace of Mr. Brown was the realization within the administration that the director's ignorance about the evacuees had further inflamed the rage of the storm's poor, black victims and created an impression of a White House that did not care about their lives.
One prominent African-American supporter of Mr. Bush who is close to Karl Rove, the White House political chief, said the president did not go into the heart of New Orleans and meet with black victims on his first trip there, last Friday, because he knew that White House officials were "scared to death" of the reaction.
Mr. Bush, characteristically, did not officially dismiss Mr. Brown, instead calling him back to Washington to run FEMA while a crisis-tested Coast Guard commander, Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, was given oversight of the relief effort. The take-charge Admiral Allen, who commanded the Coast Guard's response up and down the Atlantic Seaboard after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, immediately appeared on television as the public face of the administration's response.
In Baton Rouge, Mr. Brown appeared briefly at Mr. Chertoff's side before heading back to the capital, where, the secretary said, the director was needed for potential disasters.
"We've got tropical storms and hurricanes brewing in the ocean," Mr. Chertoff said.
Thousands crowded for anxious day after despairing day in the sealed darkness of a gleaming domed enclosure, confined with little food or water, trapped in an extreme nightmare of violence, death, heat and excrement.
Families marooned on baking slivers of interstate highway, or waving frantically from rooftops at blind helicopters passing by on fathomless missions. All surrounded by roiling waters of spilled oil, toxic chemicals, sewage, and decaying human remains.
Then even as rescue began, two-mile lines of ambulances waited to bring patients into the only working medical facility, in the passenger concourse of the New Orleans airport. There, as Dr. Mehmet Oz reported on a harrowing hour of Oprah, those who were too ill to be helped were moved to the makeshift morgue while still alive.
Bodies rotting in the street for days, dead men, women and children left to decompose in their own homes. This cannot be America, everyone was saying. This cannot even be…civilization.
This was perhaps the most sobering of many shocking realizations. Beyond political responsibilities and human failings, beyond the truth or illusion of national self-image, even beyond the physical suffering and material deprivations, there was the sense that civilization itself had broken down.
If it had, whose fault would it be? The people who were improvising survival under unimaginable duress, some of whom interpreted the absence of rescuers and resources as attempts to ignore or even kill them? Or those who failed in their designated tasks as the representatives of civilization? Or perhaps even those who set the terms of this civilization?
Was it the hardship---no electricity or running water, scant food and water---that meant civilization had broken down? Or was it these horrific hardships, plus the absence of response, of the hand of help from unaffected others?
We aren’t quite sure yet what and who most endangered our sense of civilization by allowing or causing so much degradation and suffering. Was it those who act completely on the belief that only politics is real, and governing is illusion? Was it an unfortunate coincidence of apathy and August vacations? Was it simply a failure of officials we expected to exercise an older sense of decency while we pursue a happiness redefined as acquiring and consuming with blind greed and obsessive selfishness?
There was inadequate preparation for Katrina’s assault on New Orleans on Monday, August 29th, to say the least, and an even greater failure in the days after the winds passed. But by the weekend, civilization reasserted itself. We know now that many people wanted to help earlier and were essentially prevented from doing so. But as the outrage fomented by media reports became an outpouring of aid and understanding, we saw feeling become action, from simple acts of kindness to considerable committment, and skilled, determined people doing what they always do to keep civilization together.
Help came, including search and rescue teams from California, National Guard units from Massachusetts and West Virginia. Survivors were welcomed into cities and towns and homes all over America. Baton Rouge and some Mississippi towns doubled their populations, and Houston and Dallas brought in thousands. But places farther away opened shelters, like Des Moines and Phoenix, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Chicago. Families took in distant relatives, and others hosted complete strangers, with nobody knowing what comes next.
Help, or offers of help, came from Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, the European Union, the United Nations. A million dollars came from Bangladesh.
Civilization may be nothing more and nothing less than a society’s commitment to particular values, reflected in its philosophies, institutions and actions, continually renewed and extended. It is finally expressed and confirmed by individual citizens and their associations.
The world saw our civilization break down in the Katrina zone, and we saw that, contrary to recent rhetoric, the failure of government can be catastrophic. But civilization reasserted itself, based on a principal civic value, which can’t be expressed any better than in the phrase, “you’d do the same for me.”
I’ve been thinking about this phrase for more than a decade, since the afternoon when it was uttered to me by a black man in his sixties, working as a custodian in a neighborhood coffee bar. When he retrieved and returned the pen I had just dropped, and I thanked him, all he said was: “You’d do the same for me.” He said it with a casual gravity, as though it was something he said regularly, but it also had the quality and weight of a personal mantra of some importance.
It wasn't the first time I'd heard it of course, but this time it hit me differently, mostly because of who said it to me and the sound of his voice. Gradually I realized what an important statement it is. It sums up entire philosophies and puts many book-length ethical treatises to shame. "You'd do the same for me" is nothing less than the basis of civil behavior, from courtesy to heroism.
By saying it to me, moreover, this man was stating both his own moral standard and his faith that others share it in the delicate informal system of day-to-day civilization. In the direct matter-of-factness of this statement, in its earnest assumptions, he was educating me and challenging me to rise to this standard. It is in some ways an ultimate equality, and a testament of faith in human possibility and the human heart.
It’s been said in much more trying circumstances: by fireman in the aftermath of 9/11, explaining why he was starting a 24-hour shift digging through the rubble of the World Trade Center to search for fellow firefighters buried there. They were his brothers, he said, and “they’d do the same for me.”
But it doesn’t require words: every act, every bottle of water a stranger hands to a survivor, every home opened to dazed and displaced relatives, every dollar donated to relief funds, says these words implicitly.
It’s the basis of hospitality and sharing in time of trouble that characterize traditional cultures all over the world. It is more subtle than the Golden Rule, for it carries expectation as well as personal responsibility. “You’d do the same for me” is a challenge in the form of a statement of faith.
Compassion and altruism often depend on empathy, which in turn depends on imagining ourselves in the circumstance of another. This is easier for some than for others. While “You’d do the same for me” reflects an ethic based on empathy, it doesn’t require it. It combines a feeling of human kinship with a utilitarian deduction: we can’t guarantee we will be helped in time of trouble, but if we support an ethic of helping others by our actions, our chances will be better.
In a complex society, individual freedoms and opportunities depend on a shared sense that in the final analysis, we’re all in this together. “You’d do the same for me” is the basic bargain of civilization, the confirmation of the faith in each other and in our institutions necessary to make it all work.
Senator John Kerry announced he will introduce a package of legislation to respond to the Katrina crisis.
The proposals cover small business relief, both in the area and help for all small business to cope with rising gasoline prices; creating permanent planning and coordination for disasters, a system of evacuation centers, provisions for housing and expanding the federal YouthBuild program.
The proposals are designed to not only respond to the Katrina crisis, but better prepare for future emergencies. Details are posted here.
From "World summit on UN's future heads for chaos/ UK leads last minute effort to rein in US objections "by Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Saturday September 10, 2005 The Guardian [excerpts]
The British government is mounting a huge diplomatic effort this weekend to prevent the biggest-ever summit of world leaders, designed to tackle poverty and overhaul the United Nations, ending in chaos.
The Guardian has learned that Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, has made a personal plea to his American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, for the US to withdraw opposition to plans for wholesale reform of the UN. He has asked Ms Rice to rein in John Bolton, the US ambassador to the world body.
Mr Bolton has thrown the reform negotiations into disarray by demanding a catalogue of late changes to a 40-page draft document which is due to go before the summit in New York on Wednesday.
The British government, in a rare divergence from the US, is fully behind [UN Secretary General Kofi] Annan's reforms and fears the summit will fail to build on the agreements on aid reached at the G8 summit at Gleneagles.
Aid agencies and other international groups monitoring the talks expressed fears yesterday that ambitious goals on aid, protection of civilians and curbs on the arms trade will be lost.
Nicola Reindrop, head of the New York office of Oxfam International, said: "Negotiations are on the verge of collapse."
Friday, September 09, 2005
By Paul Simao
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The Bush administration moved to quell a political storm on Friday by replacing the embattled head of emergency operations along the U.S. Gulf Coast, as rescue workers in New Orleans ended recovery efforts and began collecting the dead victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff announced he was appointing Vice Admiral Thad Allen, chief of staff of the U.S. Coast Guard to take charge of recovery operations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and recalling FEMA head Michael Brown to Washington to coordinate the response to other possible disasters.
Brown had been the target of furious bipartisan criticism for the government's slow initial response to the hurricane and some of both political parties have called for his firing.
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent (Reuters) - [excerpts, with emphasis added]
President George W. Bush' image suffered in public opinion polls taken after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, with some finding growing doubts about his leadership and the country's direction.
After a week of criticism for a slow response to the devastation caused by Katrina, polls released on Thursday registered drops in Bush's approval ratings and in confidence in his leadership.
A Pew Research Center poll found 67 percent of Americans believed Bush could have done more to speed up relief efforts, and just 28 percent believed he did all he could. His approval rating slipped to 40 percent, down four points since July to the lowest point Pew has recorded.
The Pew poll also found a shift in public priorities after Katrina caused a jump in gasoline prices last week, with a majority saying for the first time since the September 11, 2001, attacks that it was more important for Bush to focus on domestic policy than the war on terrorism.
"Americans are depressed, angry and very worried about the economic consequences of the disaster," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew poll.
A CBS poll taken September 6-7 found 38 percent approved of Bush's handling of the storm's aftermath, while 58 percent disapproved. That was a dramatic shift from immediately after the storm last week, when 54 percent approved and 12 percent disapproved.
The CBS poll also found confidence in Bush during a crisis had fallen and only 48 percent now view him as a strong leader -- the lowest number ever for Bush in the poll. A year ago 64 percent of voters saw Bush as a strong leader.
Bush's approval rating fell to 41 percent in a new Zogby poll, with only 36 percent giving him a passing grade on his handling of the response to the storm.
The Zogby poll also found broad pessimism among a majority of Americans after the storm, with 53 percent saying the country is headed in the wrong direction and 42 percent saying it is on the right track.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken on September 5-6 found 42 percent believed Bush did a "bad" or "terrible" job handling the storm and subsequent flooding, while 35 percent thought he performed "great" or "good."
A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken September 2 offered more mixed results, with 46 percent approving of Bush's performance and 47 percent disapproving.
Political Wire adds, quoting the Pew Report: Most striking shift: "Uncharacteristically, the president's ratings have slipped the most among his core constituents Republicans and conservatives."
By Donna Smith (Reuters) - [excerpts]
Democratic leaders pushing for an independent commission to investigate the government's response to Hurricane Katrina spurned on Thursday a plan by majority Republicans for a joint congressional inquiry.
House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, called the House-Senate investigation announced by Republican leaders on Wednesday a "sham" and said it would not produce an objective assessment of what went wrong in the hours and days following the storm.
The partisan proposal that Republican leaders outlined yesterday is completely unacceptable," Pelosi said. "House Democrats will not participate in a sham that is just the latest example of congressional Republicans being the foxes guarding the president's hen house."
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada also said he would not participate in the Republican-led inquiry. "The only way to ensure that all levels of our government are held accountable to the people is to take this process out of the hands of politicians with a vested interest in the outcome," he said. Reid also declined to name Democrats to the panel saying its current structure would not yield the truth.
Both Pelosi and Reid have called for an independent commission similar to the one that investigated intelligence failures before the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Sidney Blumenthal wrote in Salon (see yesterday's Dreaming Up Daily) that FEMA became a fully professional emergency response agency in the Clinton administration. Also in salon, Farhad Manjoo wrote about FEMA's failures under Bush. He talked to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! about how things were done in the Clinton years:
I talked to George Haddow, who was one of the deputies in the Clinton administration's FEMA under James Lee Witt, and you know, he talked about how when they knew that a disaster was coming or when a disaster occurred like the Northridge earthquake in California or the Midwestern floods, all of the kind of the principals who were in charge of disaster relief from the federal government, from the state government, from local government would meet in a room and talk about what should be done, and there weren't sort of people pointing fingers at each other and blaming each other.
That's very different from what's happening here. And it leads to, you know, a complete breakdown in the response and in coordination to the point where federal officials last week had no idea what was going on in New Orleans. I mean, they didn't learn, even though it was all over TV, they didn't learn until sometime in the middle of the week that there were people at the Convention Center who had no food and water and were waiting to be evacuated.
FEMA Was Unprepared for Katrina Relief Effort, Insiders Say
From ABC NEWS:
FEMA was an independent agency, answering directly to the president, until it was folded into the Department of Homeland Security two years ago. However, the latest government figures show that 75 cents out of every $1 spent on emergency preparedness goes to anti-terrorism programs. Well before Katrina, FEMA insiders were sounding the alarm.
A timeline of events leading up to the hurricane illustrates what went wrong.
On Saturday at 8:30 p.m. -- about 35 hours before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast -- Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, was so concerned about the storm, he personally called the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana as well as the mayor of New Orleans to make sure they understood the severity of the situation.
The next day, President Bush listened in on a FEMA conference call during which Mayfield warned of a storm surge of more than 20 feet of water rolling over levees.
FEMA had 1,300 disaster assistance workers pre-positioned, and FEMA Director Michael Brown assured Bush they were ready for the storm.
But inside FEMA, longtime emergency managers were convinced the agency was not ready for Katrina.
"All of us were just shaking our heads and saying, 'This isn't going to be enough, and the director has to know this isn't going to be enough.' But nothing more seemed to be happening," said Leo Bosner, president of the FEMA Headquarters Employees Union.
Bosner has been with FEMA since it began 26 years ago. He says the agency has been systematically dismantled since it became part of the massive Department of Homeland Security.
"One of the big differences I see," said Bosner, "besides taking away our staff and our budget and our training, is that Homeland Security now, in my view, slows down the process."
The union warned Congress in a detailed letter about FEMA's decline a year ago. State emergency managers also warned Capitol Hill and Homeland Security just weeks ago that DHS was too focused on one thing -- terrorism.
"We've had almost zero support for a natural disaster and an all-hazards approach," said Eric Holdeman, director of the King County Office of Emergency Management in Washington State.
By TRAVIS REED, Associated Press Writer
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. - Tropical Storm Ophelia strengthened into a hurricane as it stalled 70 miles off the northeast Florida coast Thursday, churning up waves that caused beach erosion and drenching Kennedy Space Center with rain.
Thursday night, Ophelia had top sustained winds of 75 mph, just over the threshold to be classified as a hurricane, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said.
But forecasters said it was still unclear where Ophelia was headed. If it hits Florida, it would become the third hurricane to strike the state this year and the seventh in the last 13 months.
"All that's missing from the Katrina story is an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies,” Paul Krugman writes, comparing the Bush administration's response to Katrina with its efforts in Iraq in today’s column excerpted here, “ But give it time - they're working on that, too.”
Indeed they are, and we can only begin to count the ways.
A storm is growing around Joseph Allbaugh, the Bush-appointed FEMA director before the current one, Michael Brown. Allbaugh is a former campaign manager for GW Bush. After leaving FEMA in the care of Brown, his college roommate, he went into the lobbying business with former national Republican honcho Haley Barbour, now governor of Mississippi. He got his wife a gig in the firm, as well as Neil Bush, the Bush brother the family tries not to talk about.
Allbaugh is putting his disaster experience (gained entirely as head of FEMA, since he had no previous qualifications) to good use. On Democracy Now! Amy Goodman quoted the Washington Post as noting that Allbaugh is helping Louisiana,to ‘coordinate the private sector response to the storm.’”
Judd Legum, research director for the Center for American Progress, added this:. "And what's interesting is that Allbaugh actually beat Michael Brown, the current director of FEMA down to Louisiana. He was there far in advance of when Michael Brown came down, in Louisiana, essentially securing private contracts for his clients. And he recently, although the contract was signed before he started representing Halliburton, secured the agreement of the government to tap into that contract to clean up naval bases in the Louisiana area. So, he's already paying dividends for Halliburton, certainly, and probably will for a lot of his other clients as this very large disaster relief effort continues. "
This may not be just an ironic indication of where the Bushcorps priorities are. It may be an indication of why FEMA's response was so apathetic, and why FEMA initially spurned help from so many sources, both within the US and from outside. The whole idea may have been to turn over disaster relief to Bushcorp's corporate partners, like Halliburton. Again, pretty much as they've done in Iraq.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Allbaugh’s presence has also drawn the attention of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group. Citing Allbaugh’s connection to Halliburton, "the government has got to stop stacking senior positions with people who are repeatedly cashing in on the public trust in order to further private commercial interests," said Danielle Brian, the group's executive director.
There’s potential for a lot of cashing-in. Of the $51.8 billion just allocated for Katrina zone relief, the Republican controlled Congress put $50 billion in the hands of Allbaugh’s roommate, Mike Brown at FEMA.
If Bush-backing corporations cash in on this as they did on all those billions spent on Iraq and Homeland Security, they’re likely to make out even better. President Bush issued an executive order that permits federal contractors in the Katrina zone to pay below the prevailing wage. That means less money for workers, and more of that $50 billion for Bush’s greedy corporate pals. It is also likely to mean the kind of substandard work that has kept Iraq unreconstructed.
Two Democrats immediately protested. "The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities," Rep. George Miller of California Miller said.
"One of the things the American people are very concerned about is shabby work and that certainly is true about the families whose houses are going to be rebuilt and buildings that are going to be restored," said Senator Ted Kennedy.
But Joe Allbaugh, Halliburton and Dick Cheney (who still profits from his Halliburton stock) aren’t complaining. Mike Brown may be a little upset that he’s only getting to funnel the money, but there’s a payday ahead for him, too, no doubt. And with his executive track record so far, Neil’s brother is going to need some help finding another job.
From Point Those Fingers, New York Times, Friday Sept. 9, 2005
By PAUL KRUGMAN [excerpts, emphasis added]
To understand the history of the Bush administration's response to disaster, just follow the catchphrases.
First, look at 2001 Congressional testimony by Joseph Allbaugh, President Bush's first pick to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA, he said, would emphasize "Responsibility and Accountability" (capital letters and boldface in the original statement). He repeated the phrase several times.
But those were rules for the little people. Now that the Bush administration has botched its own response to disaster, we're not supposed to play the "blame game." Scott McClellan used that phrase 15 times over the course of just two White House press briefings.
It might make sense to hold off on the criticism if this were the first big disaster on Mr. Bush's watch, or if the chain of mistakes in handling Hurricane Katrina were out of character. But even with the most generous possible assessment, this is the administration's second big policy disaster, after Iraq. And the chain of mistakes was perfectly in character - there are striking parallels between the errors the administration made in Iraq and the errors it made last week.
In Iraq, the administration displayed a combination of paralysis and denial after the fall of Baghdad, as uncontrolled looting destroyed much of Iraq's infrastructure.
The same deer-in-the-headlights immobility prevailed as Katrina approached and struck the Gulf Coast. The storm gave plenty of warning. By the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 29, the flooding of New Orleans was well under way - city officials publicly confirmed a breach in the 17th Street Canal at 2 p.m. Yet on Tuesday federal officials were still playing down the problem, and large-scale federal aid didn't arrive until last Friday.
In Iraq the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country during the crucial first year after Saddam's fall - the period when an effective government might have forestalled the nascent insurgency - was staffed on the basis of ideological correctness and personal connections rather than qualifications. At one point[ Bush press secretary] Ari Fleischer's brother was in charge of private-sector development.
The administration followed the same principles in staffing FEMA. The agency had become a highly professional organization during the Clinton years, but under Mr. Bush it reverted to its former status as a "turkey farm," a source of patronage jobs.
As Bloomberg News puts it, the agency's "upper ranks are mostly staffed with people who share two traits: loyalty to President George W. Bush and little or no background in emergency management.”
All that's missing from the Katrina story is an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies, that fails to deliver essential services. But give it time - they're working on that, too.
Why did the administration make the same mistakes twice? Because it paid no political price the first time.
From Democracy Now! Amy Goodman's Interview with Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies:
BENNIS: [speaking about international aid offered to US for Katrina relief, and the aid that was rejected and what was accepted: )
What's rather extraordinary is that the offers that have been accepted the most quickly are those that are duplicative of the kind of material that the U.S. military provides all over the world. So, for example, the U.S. has accepted transport planes from Singapore and Canada. They have accepted fully equipped cargo planes from Spain. They have accepted MREs from Germany and Italy. These are the meals ready to eat that the Pentagon provides to countries around the world. That's what they're now accepting here.
And what it says is, while we're fighting a war in Iraq, we have to depend on the charity of other countries, including donations like $25,000 from the tsunami-ravaged country of Sri Lanka or $1 million from Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. Those offers are being accepted because while the U.S. is fighting a war in Iraq that we're being told is designed to make us safer, it makes it impossible for the U.S. to provide even their own citizens with this kind of basic protection.
That's a huge admission of the failure of unilateralism of this country, that what all of the people of this country have been saying, the war in Iraq is not making us safer.
The war in Iraq is taking away our resources. The war in Iraq is the reason that one-third of the National Guard troops in Louisiana were not available because they were deployed to Iraq. Almost half of the equipment of the National Guard in Louisiana that was not available because it's in Iraq, all of the amphibious equipment, amphibious boats, the National Guard in Louisiana is the only National Guard in the United States that has that kind of equipment. They're the only ones who need it, but they can’t get to it now, because it's in Iraq. All but two of their rescue helicopters are not available because they're in Iraq. So, the war in Iraq, this illegal, unilateral war, has dramatically impacted the ability and capacity of the United States government to respond to this emergency. As well as the issue of FEMA and FEMA's own inability, led by Michael Brown, the former international director of the International Arabian Horse Association, which has shown itself incapable of dealing with this crisis.
So, the international acknowledgement by the United States that the most powerful, wealthiest country in the world is unable to support its own population in this dramatic moment of crisis for the poor and impoverished and overwhelmingly black community of Louisiana and Mississippi is a very stark reminder of the price we pay in this country, particularly the price being paid by the poorest and the communities of color for a war in Iraq and for the efforts of the United States to prove to the world that it doesn't need the rest of the world. We have seen that proved as a lie.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
By Raja Mishra, Boston Globe Staff [excerpts]
BATON ROUGE -- At one point while his family was evacuating New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina hit, 5-year-old Frank Joshua Smith asked his mother whether God planned to kill the whole world.
Specialists on the mental health of children say many of those displaced could suffer long-running emotional trauma as this jarring new reality sets in. As the relief effort turns from crisis management to long-term resettlement, health care volunteers at shelters housing evacuees around the country are on the lookout for signs of distress among children and plan to begin sending children to local counselors and therapists if necessary.
''Grief and loss will be the biggest issue. Everything familiar to them is gone," said Vicki North, an American Red Cross volunteer running mental health services at Baton Rouge's main shelter, where more than 550 children were housed yesterday. ''When we find out about the death toll, we may find they lost friends."
But at the same time, some children may prove to be the storm's most resilient victims, able to take the upheaval in stride. Interviews with dozens of children in the shelter at the Baton Rouge convention center found evidence of both reactions.
[M]any children in the shelter worried about what became of their pets. Angel Sylve, 8, said she had not seen her puppy Bull since the day before Katrina struck.
''Maybe someone found him and is taking care of him," she said. ''Or maybe he's at another shelter."
As Angel talked to a reporter, her father, Adam Sylve, 41, angrily questioned a Red Cross volunteer about when federal housing grants would become available.
''The parents are going through so much, the kids aren't getting the attention they need," said Sarah Hargadine, 20, a Red Cross volunteer from Boulder, Colo., who has helped run a children's activities center in the shelter. ''Some of [the children] say they are fine. But then you realize that they still think they're going home."
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three people have died from bacterial infections in Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina, and tests confirm that the water flooding New Orleans is a stew of sewage-borne bacteria, federal officials said on Wednesday.
A fourth person in the Gulf region is suspected to be infected with Vibrio vulnificus, a common marine bacteria, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters, citing reports from state health officials in Mississippi and Texas.
"This does not represent an outbreak," Gerberding told a news conference. "It does not spread from person to person."
And tests of the waters flooding New Orleans show it is, as expected, loaded with raw sewage.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson said all the tests of waters in flooded residential areas of New Orleans exceeded by at least 10 times the safe levels of
E. coli'. E. Coli and other so-called coliform bacteria, found in the human gut and used as an indicator of sewage contamination. They also have high levels of lead.
"Right now in the shelters where most of the people are located we have seen sporadic reports of gastrointestinal illness," Gerberding said. The conditions are specially ripe, she said, for norovirus, a type of virus that includes the Norwalk virus that occasionally causes outbreaks on cruise ships. "Norovirus is not generally life-threatening," said Gerberding. But stressed and fragile refugees will be especially vulnerable, she said.
Another concern is the mental health of refugees, National Institute of Mental Health Director Dr. Thomas Insel said. Simple measures can ensure that the immense stress of losing homes, livelihoods and loved ones does not turn into something more serious, he said.
"For the vast, vast majority of people the word is resilience here. Most people will recover completely."
(Additional reporting by Adam Tanner in Houston)
By DAN BARRY The New York Times [Excerpts]
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 7 - In the downtown business district here, on a dry stretch of Union Street, past the Omni Bank automated teller machine, across from a parking garage offering "early bird" rates: a corpse. Its feet jut from a damp blue tarp. Its knees rise in rigor mortis.
Night came, then this morning, then noon, and another sun beat down on a dead son of the Crescent City.
That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week's hurricane, there are surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable.
Welcome to New Orleans in the post-apocalypse, half baked and half deluged: pestilent, eerie, unnaturally quiet.
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON - Dispossessed victims of Hurricane Katrina will receive debit cards good for $2,000 to spend on clothing and other immediate needs, the Bush administration announced Wednesday, working to recast a relief effort drawing scant praise from Republicans and scathing criticism from top congressional Democrats.
President Bush is "oblivious, in denial, dangerous," when it comes to the plight of the storm's victims, charged House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Her Senate counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid pointedly whether the chief executive impeded relief efforts by remaining at his Texas ranch last week while the storm churned toward the Gulf Coast.
White House, spokesman Scott McClellan defended Bush from Democratic attacks but conceded, "There are ongoing problems on the ground, and that's why we're working to address those issues."
The administration formally asked Congress for $51.8 billion in relief and recovery expenses in addition to $10.5 billion already approved, calling it the latest installment, but not the last. "We will in fact need substantially more" money, said budget director Josh Bolten, estimating the money would cover expenses for "a few weeks."
Bolten said about half of the newly requested funds would take the form of direct aid to individuals, and the administration said that included an estimated 320,000 of the $2,000 debit cards at a cost of $640 million.
The federal government produced a seemingly endless stream of reminders of the devastation wrought by the storm as it battered the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida.
Congressional Budget Office reported to congressional leaders that national employment could be reduced by 400,000 in the coming months, with a cut in economic growth of as much as a full percentage point.
The report said that Katrina's impact was likely to be "significant but not overwhelming" to the overall U.S. economy, especially if energy production along the Gulf Coast returns to pre-hurricane levels quickly.
With polls showing Bush's approval ratings at low levels, Democrats seemed more emboldened to criticize him than at any time since he won a new term and they lost seats in 2004. They sought to use the events to question the appointment of John Roberts as chief justice and call on the GOP to put off a looming deficit-reduction package.
"We have just had a massive disaster," said Sen. Kent Conrad. "This is not a time to be cutting services to the most needy among us."
Referring to large numbers of poor and black New Orleans residents who were dispossessed by the storm, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said earlier in the week the disaster underscored "the glaring economic disparities facing our citizens."
Top Democrats expressed unhappiness at the announced congressional investigation, to be run by a panel comprised of more Republicans than Democrats. The committee "is not truly bipartisan ... cannot write legislation, and will not have bipartisan subpoena power," Pelosi said.
In a letter to one Republican, Reid pressed for a wide-ranging investigation and asked: "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government's response?"
McClellan brushed aside Reid's suggestion, saying the senator would not have engaged in "such personal attacks" if he were aware of Bush's efforts both before and after the storm.
Pelosi, speaking at a news conference, said Brown had "absolutely no credentials" when Bush picked him to run FEMA.
She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.
"He said, 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.
"I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"
"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.
As the Bush spin machine tried to sow doubts that the Bush administration was made aware of Katrina's deadly potential in a timely fashion, this story published in a Florida newspaper the day after Katrina struck should make clear that at least one caring professional made sure the right people knew. The failure to act on that knowledge is on their heads.
Here are excerpts from that story, which ran under the headline "For forecasting chief, no joy in being right/Max Mayfield strives for accuracy, but worries about complacency."
The story was written by Tamara Lush, Times Staff Writer.
MIAMI - About an hour after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center were running on adrenaline and sugar. Few had slept much in recent days, if at all.
Director Max Mayfield's eyes were puffy, his voice slightly cracked from giving interviews to media outlets around the world.
"I don't even know what day it is," said Mayfield.
Mayfield and the team of forecasters in Miami had just achieved the near-impossible.
At 11 p.m. Friday, more than two days before Katrina reached land, the hurricane specialists said the hurricane would make landfall in the bayous of Louisiana, east of New Orleans. They pinpointed a town called Buras as the most likely place it would strike.
They were off by 18 miles. In the business of hurricane prediction, that's laser-beam accuracy.
"A superb forecast," Mayfield said.
It was not something to celebrate; any happiness gave way to melancholy.
"I hate to be bragging about that when there are people killed," he said.
On Saturday night, Mayfield was so worried about Hurricane Katrina that he called the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi and the mayor of New Orleans. On Sunday, he even talked about the force of Katrina during a video conference call to President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"I just wanted to be able to go to sleep that night knowing that I did all I could do," Mayfield said.
From Reuters: September 7, 2005 NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. agency leading Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts said Tuesday that it does not want the news media to photograph the dead as they are recovered. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected journalists' requests to accompany rescue boats searching for storm victims. An agency spokeswoman said space was needed on the rescue boats. "We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
Brian Williams of NBC in his blog described an NBC news crew being prevented from taping a National Guard unit at a fire in New Orleans. He added: At that same fire scene, a police officer from out of town raised the muzzle of her weapon and aimed it at members of the media... obvious members of the media... armed only with notepads. Her actions (apparently because she thought reporters were encroaching on the scene) were over the top and she was told.
There are automatic weapons and shotguns everywhere you look. It's a stance that perhaps would have been appropriate during the open lawlessness that has long since ended on most of these streets. Someone else points out on television as I post this: the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history.
“Perception is reality” is the mantra of imagery advisors like Frank Luntz, and the bread and butter of political operatives like Karl Rove. They’ve prospered by their fidelity to this guiding principle.
It is in a sense a corollary of their major guiding principle which can be expressed as “Politics is real, governing is illusion.”
But Katrina has created realities that cannot be managed by spinning or repackaging perception. This is one of its sobering lessons for us all.
The Bush political machine worked its electoral magic by stage managing events, creating photo op imagery, and “re-framing” issues through the skillful manipulation of media.
They formulate a single perspective in a few words, and make sure it is endlessly repeated by their officials and party minions, so that it inevitably gets on the air and in print, and their faithful followers take it up on talk radio and in their blogs. They also feed the media with the novelty it needs, like the “new faces” and sensational assertions in the “Swift Boat” ads.
But having attained their goal through these and other means---that is, they got elected and re-elected---they have attempted to govern guided by these principles, to further their political goals and reward their friends. They have been pretty successful at this. They weathered storm after storm that easily could have brought them down. Until Katrina.
Katrina was real, and its effects are real, and will continue to be very real for a very long time. The lack of adequate federal response is real, and had real effects. Right now they are attempting to spin their way out of their responsibility. But attempting to manage perception is also at least partly why they failed.
Consider some of what we know about FEMA and its response to Katrina, and to earlier storms. The first FEMA director under Bush was Joe M. Allbaugh, a former Bush campaign manager. Before he left, he hired Mike Brown as his deputy. Brown had been his college roommate, had run his unsuccessful electoral campaign, and had just left---or been forced out of—his position with the International Arabian Horse Association, where he apparently organized horse shows.
Brown’s Chief of Staff, Patrick Rhode, planned events for the Bush White House, and did advance work for the Bush campaign. His deputy was a media strategist for the campaign, and before that the marketing director for a software company.
None of them had emergency management experience. Both of Brown’s key aides were essentially public relations specialists. Both of the directors had been political functionaries and Brown seems to have spent 11 years putting on shows with dumb animals, another qualification for political work.
Brown defended himself by pointing to other disasters he and his predecessor had successfully managed at FEMA. Yet their most conspicuous success seems to have been political.
An article in Perrspectives, which dubs FEMA the Federal Election Management Agency, reinterates the swift and massive response to four hurricanes in Florida just preceding the 2004 presidential election.
The article also cites hearings by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs which revealed how generous Brown was with government relief funds, paying for home and car repairs in areas the hurricanes barely touched, and picking up the tab for over 300 funerals, more than twice the number of deaths attributed to the hurricanes.
In other words, some portion of $31 million in emergency relief payouts were political. They were up close and personal advertising, not with the goal of alleviating suffering but creating the perception that GW Bush was a good president, and Florida voters should show their gratitude at the polls.
Using relief fund for political purposes is hardly new, but add it to FEMA’s emphasis in Katrina, and managing perception appears to be not an adjunct but the major purpose of the Bush “relief efforts.”
Here are a few reported examples, which can be found in the past few days posts here at Dreaming Up Daily: Brown's orders to convey a positive image of the government's response when he belatedly ordered some on the scene, the misuse of trained firefighters as P.R. reps and photo op props for Bush, and now FEMA's attempt to prevent reporters from showing corpses lying in the streets and floating in the water.
None of this completely explains why FEMA was so late and so slow in its response, but it suggests that perception was an important consideration. This might help account for FEMA’s many documented refusals of help from Amtrak, the U.S. Navy, various corporations and individuals and so on, that would take them into the zone of destruction.
After all, it worked in Iraq. This administration has to some degree successfully managed perceptions of the Iraq war by limiting access to the war zone, forbidding the photographing of soldiers who died there, limiting access to prisoners at Guantanamo and fighting hard to prevent new photos and video from prisons in Iraq from becoming public.
But reporters were more easily able to get to the Katrina zone on their own, and some had family there. FEMA could not manage their perceptions, when they were staring at the reality.
Now America and the world have seen the stark reality of this disgraceful catastrophe. The spin is back in high gear, but the sobering reality continues to be seen and heard, and will be for some time to come.
This is a lesson for everyone who is engaged in politics, to understand that good governance is the goal, not political advantage. We must value a candidate’s qualifications and capabilities to govern as well as the candidate’s electability.
That balance has eroded in recent years, but a catastrophe like Katrina may restore it in the minds of voters.
It is a lesson for those who habitually see reality chiefly through the lens of political perception, debating about message and re-framing and all the other tools of political perception management.
There is truly a sense in which perception creates reality, by being taken as an accurate reflection of reality. But we have also learned that managing perception does not always change reality. Sometimes reality has to be faced and dealt with, and managing the perception of it must be a secondary consideration, if it is considered at all.
Cronyism Trumps Governance
from an article
by Sidney Blumenthal, in salon [excerpts, with emphasis added:]
The Bush administration's mishandling of Hurricane Katrina stands as the pluperfect case study of the Republican Party's theory and practice of government. For decades conservatives have funded think tanks, filled libraries and conducted political campaigns to promote the idea of limited government. Now, in New Orleans, the theory has been tested. The floodwaters have rolled over the rhetoric.
Under Bush, government has been "limited" only in certain weak spots, like levees, while in other spots it has vastly expanded into a behemoth subsisting on the greatest deficit spending in our history. State and local governments have not been empowered, but rendered impotent, in the face of circumstances beyond their means in which they have desperately requested federal intervention. Experienced professionals in government have been forced out, tried-and-true policies discarded, expert research ignored, and cronies elevated to senior management.
Before Katrina, the Republican theory received its most apposite formulation by a prominent lobbyist and close advisor to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, who said about government that he wanted to "drown it in the bathtub." In relation to the waters that surround it, New Orleans has been described as a bathtub, and it has served as the bathtub for Norquist's wish.
Only two people in the light of recent events have had the daring to articulate a defense of the Republican idea of government. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, asked about rebuilding New Orleans, volunteered: "It doesn't make sense to me." He elaborated: "I think federal insurance and everything that goes along with it ... we ought to take a second look at that."
The second defender was Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency…,. On Sept. 1, Brown stated: "Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well."
Even as the floodwaters poured into New Orleans, unimpeded by any federal effort to stanch the flow, the White House mustered a tightly coordinated rapid response of political damage control. Karl Rove assumed emergency management powers. The strategy was to dampen any criticism of the president, rally the Republican base, and cast blame on the mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana, both Democrats. It was a classic Bush ploy against the backdrop of crisis. The object was to polarize the nation along partisan lines as swiftly as possible. While policy collapsed, politics reigned. Once again, Bush the divider, not the uniter, emerged.
Yet others operated off-message, casting aspersions on the hurricane's victims. The president's mother, Barbara Bush, interviewed on American Public Media's "Marketplace" program," said of the displaced from Louisiana who are temporarily housed in Houston's Astrodome, "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this -- this is working very well for them."
And Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., suggested that the residents of New Orleans who failed to escape the flood should be punished. "I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."
The White House sought to turn back the rising tide of anger among blacks by deputizing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. A week after the hurricane, Rice mounted the pulpit at a black church in Whistler, Ala. "The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time," she preached, "if we just wait."
An anatomy of cronyism
President Clinton appointed James Lee Witt as the [FEMA] director, the first one ever to have had experience in the field. Witt reinvented the agency, setting high professional standards and efficiently dealing with disasters.
FEMA's success as a showcase federal agency made it an inviting target for the incoming Bush team. Allbaugh, Bush's former campaign manager, became the new director, and he immediately began to dismantle the professional staff, privatize many functions and degrade its operations.
After Allbaugh retired from FEMA in 2003, handing over the agency to his deputy and college roommate, Brown, he set up a lucrative lobbying firm, the Allbaugh Co., which mounts "legislative and regulatory campaigns" for its corporate clients, according its Web site. After the Iraq war, Allbaugh established New Bridge Strategies to facilitate business for contractors there. He also created Diligence, a firm to provide security to private companies operating in Iraq. Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now governor of Mississippi, helped Allbaugh start all his ventures through his lobbying and law firm, Barbour Griffith and Rogers.
Indeed, the entire Allbaugh complex is housed at Barbour Griffith and Rogers. Ed Rogers, Barbour's partner, has become a vice president of Diligence. Diane Allbaugh, Allbaugh's wife, went to work at Barbour Griffith and Rogers. And Neil Bush, the president's brother, received $60,000 as a consultant to New Bridge Strategies.
On Sept. 1, the Pentagon announced the award of a major contract for repair of damaged naval facilities on the Gulf Coast to Halliburton, the firm whose former CEO is Vice President Dick Cheney and whose chief lobbyist is Joe Allbaugh.
Hurricane Katrina is the anti-9/11 in its divisive political effect, its unearthing of underlying domestic problems, and its disorienting impact on the president and his administration. Yet, in other ways, the failure of government before the hurricane struck is reminiscent of the failures leading into 9/11. The demotion of FEMA resembles the demotion of counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. In both cases, the administration ignored clear warnings.
In a conversation with a former diplomat with decades of experience, I raised these parallels. But the Bush administration response evoked something else for him. "It reminds me of Africa," he said. "Governments that prey on their people."
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
from The Guardian story, Damage exposure will 'wake America up'
by David Fickling, Mark Oliver and agencies
The devastation that will be revealed by Hurricane Katrina's receding floodwaters will bring fresh shock to the US, the mayor of New Orleans warned today.
Ray Nagin estimated that it would take three weeks to drain the water, and said he did not know how many bodies the process would reveal. Officials fear that up to 10,000 people may have died.
"It's going to be awful and it's going to wake the nation up again," Mr Nagin said. He estimated that it would take several more weeks to clear the debris and a further two months to reconnect electricity in the urban area.
The draining of New Orleans today began with the plugging of one of the biggest gaps in its levee system, through which floodwaters surged to cover around 80% of the city.
Once the floodwaters have been drained, emergency teams expect to find toxic waste, rotting matter and dead bodies, and officials spent yesterday removing the last remaining survivors before the grimmer tasks of the operation began.
"There are no jobs. There are no homes to go to, no hotels to go to, there is absolutely nothing here," deputy police chief Warren Riley said. "We advise people that this city has been destroyed ... it has completely been destroyed."
Swollen bodies floated in the streets, and authorities are worried that hundreds more victims could be dead inside homes in New Orleans.
The Jefferson Parish president, Aaron Broussard, told CBS news that government would have to be held accountable for what had happened.
"Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy needs to stand trial before congress today," he said.
"Take whatever idiot they have at the top, give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot."
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
excerpted from the New York Times
The wretchedness coming across our television screens from Louisiana has illuminated the way children sometimes pay with their lives, even in America, for being born to poor families.
It has also underscored the Bush administration's ongoing reluctance or ineptitude in helping the poorest Americans.
The scenes in New Orleans reminded me of the suffering I saw after a similar storm killed 130,000 people in Bangladesh in 1991 - except that Bangladesh's government showed more urgency in trying to save its most vulnerable citizens.
But Hurricane Katrina also underscores a much larger problem: the growing number of Americans trapped in a never-ending cyclone of poverty. And while it may be too early to apportion blame definitively for the mishandling of the hurricane, even President Bush's own administration acknowledges that America's poverty is worsening on his watch.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported a few days ago that the poverty rate rose again last year, with 1.1 million more Americans living in poverty in 2004 than a year earlier. After declining sharply under Bill Clinton, the number of poor people has now risen 17 percent under Mr. Bush.
If it's shameful that we have bloated corpses on New Orleans streets, it's even more disgraceful that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital. That's right - the number of babies who died before their first birthdays amounted to 11.5 per thousand live births in 2002 in Washington, compared with 4.6 in Beijing.
Indeed, according to the United Nations Development Program, an African-American baby in Washington has less chance of surviving its first year than a baby born in urban parts of the state of Kerala in India.
Under Mr. Bush, the national infant mortality rate has risen for the first time since 1958.
The U.S. ranks 43rd in the world in infant mortality, according to the C.I.A.'s World Factbook; if we could reach the level of Singapore, ranked No. 1, we would save 18,900 children's lives each year.
So in some ways the poor children evacuated from New Orleans are the lucky ones because they may now get checkups and vaccinations. Nationally, 29 percent of children had no health insurance at some point in the last 12 months, and many get neither checkups nor vaccinations. On immunizations, the U.S. ranks 84th for measles and 89th for polio.
So the best monument to the catastrophe in New Orleans would be a serious national effort to address the poverty that afflicts the entire country. And in our shock and guilt, that may be politically feasible.
Otherwise, long after the horrors have left TV screens, about 50 of the 77 babies who die each day, on average, will die needlessly, because of poverty. That's the larger hurricane of poverty that shames our land.
By Robert Scheer Excerpted from the Los Angeles Times
WHAT THE WORLD has witnessed this past week is an image of poverty and social disarray that tears away the affluent mask of the United States. Instead of the much-celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people abroad, we have seen a callous official incompetence that puts even Third World rulers to shame.
The well-reported litany of mistakes by the Bush administration in failing to prevent and respond to Katrina's destruction grew longer with each hour's grim revelation from the streets of an apocalyptic New Orleans. Yet the problem is much deeper.
For half a century, free-market purists have to great effect denigrated the essential role that modern government performs as some terrible liberal plot. Thus, the symbolism of New Orleans' flooding is tragically apt: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's ambitious populist reforms in the 1930s eased Louisiana out of feudalism and toward modernity; the Reagan Revolution and the callousness of both Bush administrations have sent them back toward the abyss.
Now we have a president who wastes tax revenues in Iraq instead of protecting us at home.
Levee improvements were deferred in recent years even after congressional approval, reportedly prompting EPA staffers to dub flooded New Orleans "Lake George." None of this is an oversight, or simple incompetence. It is the result of a campaign by most Republicans and too many Democrats to systematically vilify the role of government in American life.
Manipulative politicians have convinced lower- and middle-class whites that their own economic pains were caused by "quasi-socialist" government policies that aid only poor brown and black people — even as corporate profits and CEO salaries soared.
For decades we have seen social services that benefit everyone — education, community policing, public health, environmental protections and infrastructure repair, emergency services — in steady, steep decline in the face of tax cuts and rising military spending. But it is a false savings; it will certainly cost exponentially more to save New Orleans than it would have to protect it in the first place.
Watching on television the stark vulnerability of a permanent underclass of African Americans living in New Orleans ghettos is terrifying. It should be remembered, however, that even when hurricanes are not threatening their lives and sanity, they live in rotting housing complexes, attend embarrassingly ill-equipped public schools and, lacking adequate police protection, are frequently terrorized by unemployed, uneducated young men. In fact, rather than an anomaly, the public suffering of these desperate Americans is a symbol for a nation that is becoming progressively poorer under the leadership of the party of Big Business.
As Katrina was making its devastating landfall, the U.S. Census Bureau released new figures that show that since 1999, the income of the poorest fifth of Americans has dropped 8.7% in inflation-adjusted dollars. Last year alone, 1.1 million were added to the 36 million already on the poverty rolls.
For those who have trouble with statistics, here's the shorthand: The rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting, in the ripe populist language of Louisiana's legendary Long, the shaft.
These are people who have long since been abandoned to their fate. Despite the deep religiosity of the Gulf States and the United States in general, it is the gods of greed that seem to rule.
Given all this, it is no surprise that leaders, from the White House on down, haven't done right by the people of New Orleans and the rest of the region, before and after what insurance companies insultingly call an "act of God." Fact is, most of them, and especially our president, just don't care about the people who can't afford to attend political fundraisers or pay for high-priced lobbyists. No, these folks are supposed to be cruising on the rising tide of a booming, unregulated economy that "floats all boats." They were left floating all right.
Now in the area are search and rescue teams from Oakland, CA and scientists from the Bay Area testing the water in flooded New Orleans to see what health problems may yet arise. There are National Guard troops from West Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania as well as nearby states.
US neighbors are responding. Canada sent the HMCS Athabascan from Halifax. Mexico is sending medical teams. Cuba has offered 1100 doctors. The UN is organizing a world response.
Survivors are being welcomed into homes in cities and towns all over America. Baton Rouge has doubled in population, so have some Misssippi towns, and Houston and Dallas are taking thousands. But other places, like Des Moines, Iowa and Charlotte, North Carolina; Los Angeles, Phoenix, Baltimore and Chicago, are welcoming survivors and planning for short-term and long-term care.
Civilization is nothing more and nothing less than a society's commitment to certain values, reflected in its philosophies, institutions and actions, renewed and extended continually.
The world saw civilization break down in the Katrina zone, though this breakdown was caused by a criminal lack of committment and action in Washington, and perhaps elsewhere.
Now civilization is reasserting itself with the principal civic value, which can't be expressed any better than in the phrase, "You'd do the same for me."
from Think Progress:
If Bush were to fire FEMA director Mike Brown the agency would be run by the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff. (See the FEMA organizational chart).
The Chief of Staff is a guy named Patrick Rhode. He planned events for President Bush’s campaign. Rhode has no emergency management experience whatsoever. From Rhode’s official bio:
His first position with the Bush Administration was as special assistant to the President and deputy director of National Advance Operations, a position he assumed in January 2001. Previously, Mr. Rhode served as deputy director of National Advance Operations for the George W. Bush Presidential Campaign, in Austin, Texas.
The Deputy Chief of Staff is Scott Morris. He was a press flak for Bush’s presidential campaign. Previously, he worked for the company that produced Bush’s campaign commercials. He also has no emergency management experience. From Morris’s official bio:
Mr. Morris was also the marketing director for the world’s leading provider of e-business applications software in California, and worked for Maverick Media in Austin, Texas as a media strategist for the George W. Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign.
These guys make Brown look qualified. And that’s no small feat.
TED BRIDIS Associated Press (from San Jose Mercury-News)
WASHINGTON - The government's disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region - and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.
Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.
Excerpts from a story by Lisa Rosetta: The Salt Lake Tribune
ATLANTA - Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"
As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta. Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.
Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA. On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.
"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."
Also of concern to some of the firefighters is the cost borne by their municipalities in the wake of their absence. Cities are picking up the tab to fill the firefighters' vacancies while they work 30 days for the federal government.
"There are all of these guys with all of this training and we're sending them out to hand out a phone number," an Oregon firefighter said. "They [the hurricane victims] are screaming for help and this day [of FEMA training] was a waste."
Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid.
But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.