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September 02, 2005

On New Orleans and homeland security ...

Now that I've seen our newly reorganized Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency in action, I'm even more scared.

This is the outfit that spent lots of time convincing Congress to pass laws demanding that states use the drivers-license process to extract every shrivel of personal data possible from us and to computerize it.

This is the outfit that is spending lots of time and money on a fancy new airport scanner that will literally strip us for the "security" screeners. Uproar's been such that, at the moment, they're trying to figure out how to blur the image a little, so that it's not quite so photograph-like. But, you know, you do that, well, you know, you're losing security, you know...

This too, now, is the outfit that somehow mislaid the ability to help us when we need it.

At this point l'll say, because I can no longer not say it: George Bush is an idiot.

I've written in opposition to many of his policies, and I've written against his election, but have diligently steered clear of the ad hominem. Seldom helps a case, probably won't now. Nevertheless, here it is again: The man is an idiot.

He drove me over the edge Thursday, when he said, on Good Morning America, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." Well, you cannot be that wrong and not be either a liar or an idiot.

The files of the Corps of Engineers and the several local/state levee districts in Louisiana are replete with proof the levees would breach in the approaching circumstances. There have been books declaring it would. There have been innumerable studies done, in several disciplines. They all prove it would happen. Apparently Mr. Bush missed the old Discovery channel program that laid out in precise detail what is going on today.

The certainty that this day would arrive is the driving force behind New Orleans never-ending dike building.

Next, from the June 8th, 2004 edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

"For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade.

Local emergency management planners said the job ahead was "for southeast Louisiana somehow to persuade those who control federal spending that protection from major storms and flooding are matters of homeland security.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," said EM guy Walter Maestri, of Jefferson Parish. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Sorry, chump, we need them camera scanners.

Having failed to anticipate the certainty, this outfit also has bungled the reaction.

On Thursday, three and a half days into the crisis, FEMA director Michael Brown said, on national television, "the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today." Fifteen thousand hungry, thirsty, dying people and he didn't know about it. Three and a-half days into the misery.

It was a large but essentially simple problem. Lots of people need water, lots of people need food, and most of all they need transportation out. The job of finding the buses, the trucks, the supplies and shuffling it around is what this outfit, this Department of Homeland Security, is paid to do.

It was Wednesday, two and a half days into the agony, when the first reports of shots-fired came from New Orleans. This further anarchy would have been postponed, or even avoided, had there been a competently executed evacation under way to provide hope and proof that government still existed.

Finally, from Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans, who said the whole recovery operation had been "carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days. The rest of the goddamn nation can't get us any resources for security."
"We are like little birds with our mouths open and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm."


Posted by jcb at September 2, 2005 01:58 PM


I'm sorry to say I mostly agree. (Although I understand the last Congress approved something like $1 billion to continue the levee project.)

Apparently this is the best we can do -- even in the post-9/11 world, where we're all supposed to be on our toes. Would the result have been any different had it been terrorists instead of a storm? It doesn't seem so.

The buck's got to stop with the White House on this one. Now, more than ever, we're supposed to be prepared. Obviously, we're not.

Posted by: Romkey at September 2, 2005 02:31 PM

When there is an obvious lack of leadership in a situation of this magnitude, the person at the top is to blame. Not just that person, of course, but from the top down ... to somewhere.

Where is the creativity and "can do" spirit Americans are supposed to have? I think a bunch of regular, non-government people who had a good knowledge of New Orleans and its resources, could have done better with the evacuation.

I heard a guy on NPR this morning talking about a plan they had years ago to evacuate people on trains because the trains were on the high ground in New Orleans. What happened to that idea? How many other good ideas got lost or ignored?

Posted by: Vita at September 2, 2005 04:04 PM

The GOP talking points you will be hearing most likely will be assigning blame to the mayor of NOLA and the governor of Louisiana for not *asking* for help soon enough. I believe this to be complete BS but I've seen it pop up a few message boards/blogs already. I also heard a frat boy behind me at lunch today (I work in Iowa City) regurgitating said talking point.

On CNN's website there is a picture of Mayor Nagin (who has already publicly called out the feds to "get off their asses") talking to W. I would love to hear a tape of that conversation.

As you can see in the pictures I posted in the comments a couple of stories ago, doing a photo-op with a country musician was more important to our president on Tuesday night than getting back to D.C. and addressing this problem.

I whole-heartedly agree that he is an idiot.. I bet the people of New Orleans who have been stuck in filth for four days have even more descriptive adjectives for him.

Posted by: t at September 2, 2005 05:06 PM

Idiot? What an understatement!! Thank God there was no such thing as "Homeland Security" during the 1993 Mississippi floods. Can you imagine what the QC would have looked like? That is why midwesterners pull together! BRING OUR KIDS HOME!! Only then will we have security! God bless our troops whereever they may be and pray for those depending on our government for help in time of need.

Posted by: Kathleen Scott at September 2, 2005 06:54 PM

The rescue phase of Katrina has been an embarrassment. It feels like we do more, faster, for other countries. "Asleep at the wheel" comes to mind.

We have the ability to fire a killing machine into a ventilation shaft, half a word away, but we can't manage to quickly place drinking water on a target on our own soil, the size of the Superdome?

We have planes, transports vehicles and human assets to run/land on water to attack (or defend, depending on perspective) but we can't mobilize same quickly enough to save citizens in a drowning U.S. City? Is it because we didn't think of it or because our assets were in some far away land?

Fuel prices have displayed their ability to do whatever they want, whenever they want -- again. I'd guess insurance might be next.

As an aside, let's get serious about our dependency on fossil fuels and use renewable things we can GROW or derive from alternative resources, like the wind and sun. If we grow the market, the prices of these resources will come down. But this administration and 'big oil' are not going to push this. We had a good start in the 80's and then I guess we all went to sleep for twenty years. No, I don't drive an electric car, yet, but I burn ethanol gas -- it's a start. And Biodiesel works in trucks.

It seems only a matter of time before we begin seeing 'Katrina damage control' in the media. Victims living it up on cruise ships, drinking drinks with umbrellas in them -- or living in previously vacant luxury apartments. I hope the press will report these 'photo ops' for what they are and retain focus on the meat of the story, which is; we blew it the beginning, when it mattered most.

I want to be a proud American.I sincerely hope the next time I'm either shocked or awed by this administration, it will be because something good has happened.

Posted by: ref at September 4, 2005 10:19 AM