Sunday, September 04, 2005

Response Team Bush: "Homeland Security 2005"

The Presidential prayer team urged members to pray for Bush as he struggled with pre-golf game anxiety, surveying untold thousands of dead and dying Americans 1,700 feet below the safety and comfort of his Air Force One couch.

While thousands of Americans in Louisiana were drowning and a million refugees had their lives obliterated,

FIVE DAYS AFTER blowing off Chicago Mayor Daley’s pre-storm offer of massive aid and hundreds of emergency rescue, medical, police and logistics personnel,

FOUR DAYS AFTER Louisiana Governor Blanco begged for emergency aid

THREE DAYS AFTER ignoring Canada’s offer for that aid in the form of mobile hospitals, rescue crews, medication, equipment and military Disaster Teams

TWO DAYS AFTER dismissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' offer of over $1 million in oil, food, and equipment (two mobile hospital units, 120 rescue specialists, 10 water purifying plants, 18 electricity generators, 20 tons of bottled water, and 50 tons of canned food)

Bush displayed his special brand of compassionate conservatism by enjoying a little celebratory cake, followed by an Iraq pep rally complete with a backstage jam session.

THREE CRITICAL LIFE-AND-DEATH DAYS AFTER THE HURRICANE, his highness deigned to cut his month-long vacation a day short to imperiously survey what his huge budget and personnel cuts had wrought from the safety of 1,700 feet.

Naturally, Rove sock puppet Scott McClellan was effusive about how Bush’s body language and marginally coherent expressions of befuddlement showed his immense concern, just prior to a timely photo op – diverting critical life-saving manpower and equipment (now reported by German TV as a fake, staged event in an already empty part of town) – and his return for – wait for it – another round of golf.

And while the disaster has continued to worsen and Chief Pan Troglodytes has been brushing up on his game, not wanting to be upstaged, Mrs. Bush decided to give the refugees a timely lessen in remembering their betters, forcing them to wait an hour in line for emergency food as she conducted the royal inspections.

She did, however, show marginally good sense in refraining from a plastic-turkey serving photo op.

Meanwhile, Vice Dickhead in Chief also lined up to show his support, by winning another fat reconstruction contract for the company where he still draws a paycheck -- scandal-ridden, rotten-food serving, empty-delivery charging, body armour-money-stealing, enemy-black-market trading Halliburton.

Condaleezza Rice showed her solidarity with Louisana’s dying black Americans by going on a shopping spree (and having an uppity peon hauled off by security for daring to question her highness’ priorities), followed by enjoying a few yuck-yucks in the premium seats of a Broadway comedy.

But Republican Fatasstoady of the House Dennis Hastert really provided the proverbial icing on the aforementioned cake by suggesting that, what the Hell, saving New Orleans would really just be a waste of crony cash, and it would be far more practical to simply bulldoze it.

What makes these images more shocking is the realization that much of the death and destruction could have been prevented…. no real plans had been made for evacuating the region, even though everyone, including Federal authorities and meteorologists, knew that a hurricane of enormous magnitude was descending on the area.

For the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, there was no provision for evacuation or shelter. It was “everyone for themselves,” and those who didn’t have the ability to flee or the means to finance their own evacuation were left to perish. There were no arrangements for more than 100,000 people in New Orleans - 20 % of the population and overwhelmingly the poorest part of the population. Those with out cars, credit cards, and hotel reservations had few alternatives but to stay home and face the coming deluge….

There were many obvious things that could have and should have been done if the government were concerned about the lives of the people. Trains, airlines, buses, and other transportation could have been put to use evacuating people. Convention centers, hotels, and college dormitories throughout the region could have been used for shelter. The government uses eminent domain to take working people’s property for the benefit of corporate developers; this would have been an excellent opportunity to use eminent domain in a way that actually benefits people….

Videos of the situation… show just how desperate the situation is—people are without food, water, and medicine. Bodies are piling up on the streets. The people have been absolutely abandoned by the government. Only massive immediate Federal intervention can relieve the situation. The government has access to stockpiles of food and medicines and it has cargo planes and helicopters to deliver them. Yet the Administration has chosen not to act while people are dying….

There’s no question that Bush and his “Administration” (to be charitably euphemistic) are demonstrably and utterly at fault for this American Apocalypse.
The White House’s diversion of New Orlean’s resources into wealthy tax cuts and the Iraq invasion left the city wide open to this disaster, a disaster which had been quite specifically cited as virtually inevitable and inevitably cataclysmic

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. lays bare the ugly math:

Comparing the cuts of more than $71 million for flood protection to the $1.7 billion taken from the people of Louisiana for the war in Iraq yields one more example of how the Bush policy of endless war endangers the population here.

Of course, not everyone was affected equally, as columnist Van Jones pointed out:

Bush-era neglect of our national infrastructure, combined with runaway global warming and a deep contempt for poor African-Americans. It is a result of a weak levee -- one that was in mid-repair when the storm hit. And that levee, which has held back floodwaters for time beyond memory, collapsed for one simple reason: Bush refused to fix it last summer, when local officials were begging him to do so. Instead, he diverted those funds to the war effort. In other words, the dollars that could have saved New Orleans were used to wage war in Iraq, instead. What's worse: funds that might have spared the poor in New Orleans (had the dollars been properly invested in levees and modern pumping stations), were instead passed out to the rich, willy-nilly -- as tax breaks.

With those two simple steps, Bush squandered the hard-won Clinton-era surplus. He left the national piggy bank empty for fixing and maintaining basic U.S. infrastructure. (And what was Clinton doing next to the president, giving him cover at a time like this?) Had the levee repairs been completed in a timely manner (two years ago), Katrina would have hit hard, destroyed buildings and probably taken some lives. But it would NOT have cracked open the floodwalls and submerged an entire CITY. It took Bush's criminal neglect of his domestic duties to produce that outcome.

But that is only one area of Bush's culpability. Ross Gelbspan says: "Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced off south Florida, [but] it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico." In other words, global warming likely super-charged this hurricane. Yet Bush's energy policies amount to an ongoing conspiracy to add even MORE carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the climate. So get ready for even worse storms next year, and the next. And the next. And the human suffering was not -- and will not be -- equally distributed.

Poor people and Black people didn't "choose to stay behind." They were left behind. All evacuation plans required the city's residents to have working, private cars -- plus gas money, nearby relatives or funds for a hotel stay. And if you didn't have all those things, tough luck. Had the responsible agencies valued the lives of the poor, they would have helped the destitute flee in the face of the hurricane -- even those who couldn't afford a car or a motel room. But when the "face of suffering" is Black, somehow our high standards for effective action and compassion begin to sag….

The Houston Chronicle couldn’t have been more specific in its warnings when it reported in Dec. 2001:
“New Orleans is sinking. And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster. ...So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country," directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

Of course we all remember how well the Bush Administration prepared us for and dealt with the aftermath of THAT disaster.

(That muzzling of the EPA was actually repeated in spectacularly criminal, exponentially larger form months later.)

So just how did Bush and his associates react to the FEMA warning? Why, by mercilessly slashing money that would unquestionably have prevented the disaster, of course:

…By 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year…forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze.

A year ago, New Orleans emergency management chief Walter Maestri explained the rationale behind the cuts, which were to leave New Orleans defenseless in the face of the worst storm in recorded history:
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. 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.
But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said.

Turns out the exact amount the Army Corps of Engineers had requested for repairs – and been denied – was $2.5 billion – TWO WEEKS OF WHAT WE’RE SPENDING TO “SECURE” IRAQ in what Bush has finally admitted to the press REALLY WAS ABOUT THE OIL.

Pulitzer prizewinning reporter Will Bunch chronicles the exact dollar amounts Bush slashed from the projects specifically meant to shore up New Orleans against the inevitable coming disaster.

And then there was Bush’s huge diversion of 6,000 of the region’s critical emergency response personnel. As the American Center for Progress put it:

National Guard and Reserve soldiers are typically on the front lines responding to disasters like Katrina -- that is, if they're not fighting in Iraq. Roughly 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is currently deployed in Iraq, where guardsmen and women make up about four of every 10 soldiers. Additionally, "Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators" used by the Louisiana Guard are also tied up abroad. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," Louisiana National Guard Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider told reporters earlier this month.

But of course, none of the National Guard will be diverted from Iraq.

Because, as every right-minded American knows, we can't waste perfectly good deaths by preventing further deaths.

In truth, the Bush team has long been hard at work ensuring New Orleans’ doom in a number of related ways, as the Center for American Progress goes on to enumerate:

The Gulf Coast wetlands form a "natural buffer that helps protect New Orleans from storms," slowing hurricanes down as they approach from sea. When he came into office, President Bush pledged to uphold the "no net loss" wetland policy his father initiated. He didn't keep his word. Bush rolled back tough wetland policies set by the Clinton administration, ordering federal agencies "to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands and an untold number of waterways nationwide." Last year, four environmental groups issued a joint report showing that administration policies had allowed "developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands." The result? New Orleans may be in even greater danger: "Studies show that if the wetlands keep vanishing over the next few decades, then you won't need a giant storm to devastate New Orleans -- a much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could destroy the city too." …

Forward-thinking federal plans with titles like "Issues and Options in Flood Hazards Management," "Floods: A National Policy Concern," and "A Framework for Flood Hazards Management" would be particularly valuable in a time of increasingly intense hurricanes. Unfortunately, the agency that used to produce them -- the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) -- was gutted by Gingrich conservatives several years ago. As Chris Mooney (who presciently warned of the need to bulk up hurricane defenses in New Orleans last May) noted yesterday, "If we ever return to science-based policymaking based on professionalism and expertise, rather than ideology, an office like OTA would be very useful in studying how best to save a city like New Orleans -- and how Congress might consider appropriating money to achieve this end."….

RNC Chairman/Bush-Cheney campaign strategist/Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played a special role in helping seal his own state’s fate by engineering Bush’s killing of the Kyoto protocols:

Barbour, who had served as RNC Chair and Bush campaign strategist, was now representing the president’s major donors from the fossil fuel industry who had enlisted him to map a Bush energy policy that would be friendly to their interests. His credentials ensured the new administration’s attention. The document, titled “Bush-Cheney Energy Policy & CO2,” was addressed to Vice President Cheney, whose energy task force was then gearing up, and to several high-ranking officials with strong connections to energy and automotive concerns keenly interested in the carbon dioxide issue….

He derided the idea of regulating CO2 as “eco-extremism,” and chided them for allowing environmental concerns to “trump good energy policy, which the country has lacked for eight years.” The memo had impact…. On March 13, Bush reversed his previous position, announcing he would not back a CO2 restriction using the language and rationale provided by Barbour. Echoing Barbour’s memo, Bush said he opposed mandatory CO2 caps, due to “the incomplete state of scientific knowledge” about global climate change.

Unfortunately, waiting for that complete knowledge is proving dangerous to all of us:

As the Progress Report has noted, data increasingly suggest that human-induced global warming is making these phenomena more dangerous and extreme than ever. "The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service," science author Ross Gelbspan writes. "Its real name is global warming." AP reported recently on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis that shows that "major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific ... have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent" since the 1970s, trends that are "closely linked to increases in the average temperatures of the ocean surface and also correspond to increases in global average atmospheric temperatures during the same period."

Yet just last week, as Katrina was gathering steam and looming over the Gulf, the Bush administration released new CAFE standards that actually encourage automakers to produce bigger, less fuel efficient vehicles, while preventing states from taking strong, progressive action to reverse global warming.

International scientists are issuing the same chilling warnings:

For all its numbing ferocity, Hurricane Katrina will not be a unique event, say scientists, who say that global warming appears to be pumping up the power of big Atlantic storms. 2005 is on track to be the worst-ever year for hurricanes, according to experts measuring ocean temperatures and trade winds…. Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Risk, a London-based consortium of experts, predicted that the region would see 22 tropical storms during the six-month June-November season, the most ever recorded and more than twice the average annual tally since records began in 1851. Seven of these storms would strike the United States, of which three would be hurricanes, it said.

…more and more scientists estimate that global warming, while not necessarily making hurricanes more frequent or likelier to make landfall, is making them more vicious…. Just a tiny increase in surface temperature can have an extraordinary effect, says researcher Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In a study published in Nature in July, Emanuel found that the destructive power of North Atlantic storms had doubled over the past 30 years, during which the sea-surface temperature rose by only 0.5 C (0.9 F).

In the aftermath, as untold thousands are still struggling between life and death, we see with embarassing clarity that Bush’s true priorities never change, as he threatens desperate survivors daring to steal food,
quietly slips in another tax cut for millionaires and rushes to the gas pump.

So who says he isn't a man of action?

Quote of the Day: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
--Martin Luther King Jr.

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