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September 09, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Survivor's story...

...from a Gambit writer who went into labor that weekend:

All day Saturday, people were getting ready to evacuate. Everyone you saw in the street would say, "Are you leaving?" Among our friends, it was 50-50 between people staying, people going. We were debating because I was so enormously pregnant--38 weeks along, big as a house and four centimeters dilated, which meant I could go on to labor at any moment. Last year, I had evacuated for Hurricane Ivan. We spent 14 hours on the road, and then we got two drops of rain in New Orleans. I knew I couldn't do that this time. For one thing, you really don't own your bladder at that point in pregnancy. And if I had gone into labor, I probably would been forced to give birth in a car.

At about 10 p.m., when Merv got home from his gig, my contractions were getting pretty close. So he borrowed a car and drove like a speed demon to Touro--me in the back seat, on all fours and in a lot of pain. When we arrived to the hospital, they discovered Hector was lying sideways, so they had to turn him about 90 degrees before he could come out. I could have never given birth to him in a car. It turned out we probably did the right thing by staying.

I started to push at midnight. Hector wasn't born until 4:14 in the morning. He was a cute, mellow little dude and we called some people to say that we were staying and then I fell asleep. About eight hours after I gave birth, the hospital was put on lock down, which meant no one could leave and no one could enter. So after that, I really didn't think again about evacuating.

About 6 a.m. on Monday morning, we were awakened by the head nurse. The hurricane came through--it sounded like a train--and she was telling everyone to move in the hallways. Originally, they had thought we would be okay in our rooms because the glass was rated for 200 mph winds. But after a few windows broke in the upper stories, someone decided all the patients would sit out the hurricane in the hallways.

* * *

Merv went to a nearby grocery store with some other new dads from the floor. The guys came back carrying these big bags of groceries and I said, "Oh my God, you were able to get to a grocery store? There was one open?" They were like, "Kinda." They said everyone was grabbing stuff--black, white, even cops. It didn't matter.

While Merv was at the store, he heard that the A & P owner over on 19th Street had opened his doors and said, "Take whatever you want, just don't wreck the store." It seemed like it was one of those things everyone was doing in order to recover. People were just taking what they needed. Although, to be honest, I think the liquor went first in most of the stores. The liquor and the cigarettes.

From my window I saw these police loading up on boxes of Cheese-Its, and cases of Powerade and barbequing. Apparently, there were a couple of purse snatchings and muggings on the first floor of the hospital, so they had called in the cops.



September 07, 2005

Bob Harris:
Bush sends FEMA to protect Upsidedownland

My curiosity spurred by the posts about the incomplete list of Louisiana parishes in Bush's pre-Katrina declaration of emergency, I printed out a Louisiana map and played coloring book for a few minutes just now.

The results are so insane that I had to post this graphic on my site to share with the rest of the class. My html and file-transfer skills being what they are, however, you'll have to click on over to puduland to see it. Apologies.

I confess I am baffled by what I see.


September 06, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Blame game, set and match

Chris Floyd settles the matter:

Look, it's really very simple. On Saturday, August 27, 2005 -- two days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall -- President George W. Bush assumed responsibility for the coordination of "all disaster relief efforts" in the State of Louisiana. This is the specific, undisputed language of Bush's declaration of a State of Emergency, issued that day by the White House, and still available for viewing on the White House website. The responsibility for coordinating all disaster relief efforts in New Orleans clearly rested with the White House. Despite all the post-disaster spin by the Bush Faction and its sycophants, despite all the earnest media analyses, the lines of authority are clear and indisputable. Here is the voice of George W. Bush himself, in the proclamation issued in his name, over his signature on Saturday, August 27, 2005:

"The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing. The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures"

Bush goes on to say: "Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

(Here's the White House link.)

...or maybe not. Reader Brian L., among others, notices an oddity:

Note the salient text:

"The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts...in the parishes of Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, Catahoula, Concordia, De Soto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Pointe Coupee, Ouachita, Rapides,
Red River, Richland, Sabine, St. Helena, St. Landry, Tensas, Union, Vernon, Webster, West Carroll, West Feliciana, and Winn."

Conspicuous by their absence are Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Plaquemines, Jefferson and basically every coastal parish, and the next parishes closest to the coast. So then, let me understand this: Team Bush saw by 26 August that Katrina would be sufficiently dangerous to warrant a preemptive disaster declaration for what looks like about 65-70% of the land area of Lousiana, and he declares it for the _landlocked_ parishes?

...Chris follows up here.

Jeanne d'Arc:
Baghdad on the Mississippi

Gee, I don't know, Barb. You're right about this whole disaster thing working out well, but it seems to be working for some people a lot closer to you than anyone living at the Astrodome. I know you're busy, so I'll try to make it stand out for you:

Perhaps no city in the United States is in a better spot than Houston to turn Katrina's tragedy into opportunity. And businesses here are already scrambling to profit in the hurricane's aftermath.

Oil services companies based here are racing to carry out repairs to damaged offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico; the promise of plenty of work to do sent shares in two large companies,  Halliburton and  Baker Hughes, soaring to 52-week highs last week. The Port of Houston is preparing for an increase in traffic as shippers divert cargoes away from the damaged ports of Pascagoula, Miss., and New Orleans.

Owners of office space here are witnessing a surge in leasing as New Orleans companies, including that city's oldest bank, scramble to set up new headquarters in Houston, helping to shore up its sagging property market. With brio that might make an ambulance-chaser proud, one company, National Realty Investments, is offering special financing deals "for hurricane survivors only," with no down payments and discounted closing costs.

All this, of course, is capitalism at work, moving quickly to get resources to where they are needed most. And those who move fastest are likely to do best.


Halliburton differs from many oil services companies in that it also does significant business with the federal government. The company, which has contracts in Iraq, has a contract with the Navy that has already kept it busy after Hurricane Katrina. The company's KBR unit was doing repairs and cleanup at three naval facilities in Mississippi last week.

Halliburton was also planning to go to New Orleans to start repairs at other naval facilities as soon as it was considered safe to do so, Cathy Mann, a spokeswoman, said.

They really are bringing the war home, so pardon me if this doesn't reassure me:

Stressing his focus on victims, Mr Bush also pledged not to allow "bureaucracy... to get in the way of getting the job done for the people".

He also announced that Vice President Dick Cheney would visit Gulf Coast region on Thursday to help assess the government's work.

Nice to see him keeping in touch with the old guys from the company.

Tom Tomorrow:
Reality check

The current Republican talking points are essentially twofold: (1) the federal government really had no responsibility in the matter and we should be grateful that they finally decided to saunter in at all, and (2) this is all the fault of unprepared local officials (i.e., "New Orleans was wearing a short skirt and deserved what it got.")

Contemplating these, I feel like the scientists pressed to argue the case for evolution over creationism in Kansas--to even acknowledge such nonsense as worthy of debate is to elevate it to a stature it surely does not deserve.

(As the right wing bloggers do their best to drive these points home, remember--these are the same people who thought that Joe Wilson "outed" his wife by publicly acknowledging the fact that he had a wife. These are the people who argued that male prostitutes wander in and out of White House press conferences all the time. Hell, these are the people who insisted that "everybody" knew that Saddam had WMD's.)

Anyway, the Times Picayune said most of what needs to be said in its open letter to President Bush:

We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, "What is not working, we're going to make it right." Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.

Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It's accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

Despite the city's multiple points of entry, our nation's bureaucrats spent days after last week's hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city's stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

We're angry, Mr. President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That's to the government's shame.

Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don't know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the Superdome not been opened, the city's death toll would have been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially higher.

It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren't they evacuated out of the city immediately? We learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened, that the Dome isn't suitable as a long-term shelter. So what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn't have but two urgent needs: "Buses! And gas!" Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn't known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

Lies don't get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You're doing a heck of a job."

That's unbelievable.

There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too.

We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We're no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.

No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn't be reached.

Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise to make our beloved communities work right once again.

When you do, we will be the first to applaud.

I don't care if more "should" have been done by Mayor Nagin. I don't care if the entire city of New Orleans was not only unprepared, but actually so staggeringly drunk that they didn't even know a hurricane was on the way. I'm not interested in blaming the victims, or discussing why they deserved what they got. What I do want to know is, why was the federal government of the United States, which has theoretically been preparing for a catastrophic event of this scale for the past four years, utterly unprepared to respond in a timely manner to a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude? Why did babies have to die waiting for help to arrive? That's the only relevant question--the rest of it is just Karl Rove talking points bouncing around the echo chamber.


September 05, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
They're trying to wash us away

"It's so glaring that the great majority of people crying out for help are poor, they're black. There's a whole segment of society that's being left behind." -- John Lewis


"He would have noticed if the majority of these stricken folks had been white and prosperous. But they weren't. Most were black and poor, and thus, to the George W. Bush administration, still invisible." -- Bob Herbert


"Yesterday morning, Sept. 2, 2005, I went out and wrote "Stop the genocide in New Orleans NOW! Impeach GWBush" in chalk on sidewalks near my house. I found it wildly interesting that as I was writing one of these, a white male in his 20's came up and said "If you were not a woman, I would beat the sh*t out of you right now." I said, "Why, for writing this in chalk?" He said "You are so ignorant. You do not even know what genocide is." I said, "Excuse me sir, I have a degree in political science from the University of Washington and also have successfully passed all my prerequisites in law school, and I am well aware of what the word genocide means." I quoted the Webster Collegiate Dictionary definition: "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group." It was as if steam began coming out his ears at this, he puffed his chest, and began to stand in a physically threatening manner close to me. I said, "You know, I am twice you size. And I can be absolutely crazy if you push me. Just know you may endanger yourself physically if you touch me." He left with his legs between his tail, but why did a white male want to BEAT ME for saying that?!" -- Kirsten Anderberg (via Amanda Marcotte)


"Even white people are now wondering if the response to the tragedy in New Orleans is fueled by race. Of course, Mississippi residents, mostly white, have been as ill-served as New Orleans residents. But once a perception enters the conversation, it is either refuted or becomes a defining factor.

There is now a widespread assumption that the lack of aid and poor coordination was purposeful because the victims were poor and black." -- Steve Gilliard


The final thought is the only one I'm not sure of, and unfortunately, it's the one that matters most.

On the one hand, even David Brooks, although he never mentions race, seemed close to getting it this week:

The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield.

You don't have to mention race following the pictures we saw this week. America knows who got out and who got left behind. Even if the press was reluctant to make the issue explicit, the pictures spoke for themselves. We also saw that active hostility isn't the only form of racism. Indifference will do, and can be equally deadly. That's probably the most important fact about racism that America has been avoiding for a generation, and it became pretty hard to avoid recognizing this week.

And Brooks is far from the only one. The press did a better job this week showing the consequences of racism in this country than they have since the days when they turned their cameras on Bull Connor. The emotion was clear and genuine. The heartless bullies didn't go away, but it was obvious that a lot of reporters were remembering why they became reporters in the first place, and the truth was well served by that memory.

Which is why the ABC poll  that's been widely linked is so thoroughly depressing. It shows 46% of Americans, as of Friday, approving Bush's handling of the disaster. I really can't imagine what almost half of America thinks Bush has done right. I'd almost be afraid to look at a racial breakdown of that poll for fear it would rob me of Steve Gilliard's flash of optimism, and show me that white people not only don't see the racism, they don't even see the incompetence, and the misplaced priorities. All they see is too much water.

Even if the press does its job it may not make a difference.

A more recent poll, taken yesterday by SurveyUSA is more encouraging, showing only 38% approval of Bush's response. The link to the poll died since I started writing this, but the best part was that it showed Bush's ratings declining throughout the week. Ironically, even after television began showing some relief coming in, his ratings were still going down, as if it were taking Americans awhile to process what they were seeing.

I don't entirely trust polls, but the shape of the latter one matches my sense of people's response -- not necessarily their response to this particular scandal, but how people respond in general to the revelation of injustice.  It's a commonplace of pop history that America looked at the response of authorities to the Birmingham campaign in 1963 and its conscience was stricken. I was ten years old in 1963 -- old enough to be aware of a whole lot of people who weren't so stricken, who sided with Bull Connor. Old enough to remember that a decade later the same people remembered how clearly they had seen the brutality.

If you've ever been through trauma, you know: It takes time to process it.

Left to themselves, I think Americans would eventually process this, and figure out the meaning of what they saw. But of course, they won't be left to themselves. Karl Rove is already hard at work, doing what he does best:

In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.

"The way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials," Mr. Chertoff said in his television interview. "The federal government comes in and supports those officials."

That line of argument was echoed throughout the day, in harsher language, by Republicans reflecting the White House line.

And I'm afraid it will work. I've been watching the news this morning, switching channels to get a sense of the coverage, and I have strong sense that -- even setting aside Fox, which has been spinning through the storm -- the press is ready to tie everything up with a happy ending. People are being helped. Bush is posing with black ministers. I don't want to count the times I have heard the phrase "There's been some encouraging news..." This is no longer America's shame, but America's challenge. The press had lost its anger much too soon.


September 04, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
The emerging narrative


It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them.

As we noted yesterday, the storyline and the outlines of the attack are now clear: pin the blame for the debacle on state and local authorities.

So, let's get all the facts out on the table now. And let's not be afraid to let them all fall where they may. There's no need to make saints of Gov. Blanco or Mayor Nagin. In such a storm of error as this, it would not surprise me if they made a number of them too. But the reason you have a federal government and particularly a FEMA in cases like this is that it is in the nature of local and state authorities to be at least partly overwhelmed in disasters of this magnitude. Read what Ed Kilgore wrote a couple days ago at TPMCafe

Anyone who's been involved in a disaster response episode will tell you the first few days are characterized by absolute chaos. Basic logistics are fouled up; communications systems are paralyzed; a thousand urgent needs must be triaged; a vast welter of well-meaning but tunnel-visioned federal, state and local agencies, plus private charitable organizations and volunteers, rush in; local elected officials are forced in front of cameras to inform and reassure the affected population. Somebody has to be in charge of the chaos, and that's FEMA's job.

This is just one of the many reasons why the White House's main excuse -- that the locals didn't tell us what to do -- is such a grim joke.

Tom Tomorrow:
And more

Washington Post:

The killer hurricane and flood that devastated the Gulf Coast last week exposed fatal weaknesses in a federal disaster response system retooled after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to handle just such a cataclysmic event.

Despite four years and tens of billions of dollars spent preparing for the worst, the federal government was not ready when it came at daybreak on Monday, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior officials and outside experts.

Among the flaws they cited: Failure to take the storm seriously before it hit and trigger the government's highest level of response. Rebuffed offers of aid from the military, states and cities. An unfinished new plan meant to guide disaster response. And a slow bureaucracy that waited until late Tuesday to declare the catastrophe "an incident of national significance," the new federal term meant to set off the broadest possible relief effort.

Born out of the confused and uncertain response to 9/11, the massive new Department of Homeland Security was charged with being ready the next time, whether the disaster was wrought by nature or terrorists. The department commanded huge resources as it prepared for deadly scenarios from an airborne anthrax attack to a biological attack with plague to a chlorine-tank explosion.

But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that his department had failed to find an adequate model for addressing the "ultra-catastrophe" that resulted when Hurricane Katrina's floodwater breached New Orleans's levees and drowned the city, "as if an atomic bomb had been dropped."

If Hurricane Katrina represented a real-life rehearsal of sorts, the response suggested to many that the nation is not ready to handle a terrorist attack of similar dimensions. "This is what the department was supposed to be all about," said Clark Kent Ervin, DHS's former inspector general. "Instead, it obviously raises very serious, troubling questions about whether the government would be prepared if this were a terrorist attack. It's a devastating indictment of this department's performance four years after 9/11."

"We've had our first test, and we've failed miserably," said former representative Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.), a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. "We have spent billions of dollars in revenues to try to make our country safe, and we have not made nearly enough progress." With Katrina, he noted that "we had some time to prepare. When it's a nuclear, chemical or biological attack," there will be no warning.

Indeed, the warnings about New Orleans's vulnerability to post-hurricane flooding repeatedly circulated at the upper levels of the new bureaucracy, which had absorbed the old lead agency for disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among its two dozen fiefdoms. "Beyond terrorism, this was the one event I was most concerned with always," said Joe M. Allbaugh, the former Bush campaign manager who served as his first FEMA head.

But several current and former senior officials charged that those worries were never accorded top priority -- either by FEMA's management or their superiors in DHS. Even when officials held a practice run, as they did in an exercise dubbed "Hurricane Pam" last year, they did not test for the worst-case scenario, rehearsing only what they would do if a Category 3 storm hit New Orleans, not the Category 4 power of Katrina. And after Pam, the planned follow-up study was never completed, according to a FEMA official involved.

"The whole department was stood up, it was started because of 9/11 and that's the bottom line," said C. Suzanne Mencer, a former senior homeland security official whose office took on some of the preparedness functions that had once been FEMA's. "We didn't have an appropriate response to 9/11, and that is why it was stood up and where the funding has been directed. The message was . . . we need to be better prepared against terrorism."

The roots of last week's failures will be examined for weeks and months to come, but early assessments point to a troubled Department of Homeland Security that is still in the midst of a bureaucratic transition, a "work in progress," as Mencer put it. Some current and former officials argued that as it worked to focus on counterterrorism, the department has diminished the government's ability to respond in a nuts-and-bolts way to disasters in general, and failed to focus enough on threats posed by hurricanes and other natural disasters in particular. From an independent Cabinet-level agency, FEMA has become an underfunded, isolated piece of the vast DHS, yet it is still charged with leading the government's response to disaster.

"It's such an irony I hate to say it, but we have less capability today than we did on September 11," said a veteran FEMA official involved in the hurricane response. "We are so much less than what we were in 2000," added another senior FEMA official. "We've lost a lot of what we were able to do then."

Tom Tomorrow:
More and more

Orrin Hatch on This Week:

"The state government wasn't very well prepared, and the city wasn't well prepared. They're ten feet below sea level. They should have known that these things could happen."

Imagine someone saying, "New York City is obviously a prime terrorist target. They should have known that these things could happen."

I actually heard some right wing moron on the radio yesterday complaining about the damage done to the Superdome by the refugees stranded there.

As somebody said in email recently, it's as if conservatives are wired differently than you and I.


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