Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why was New Orleans Left to Die?

The man who tried to save New Orleans, Aaron Broussard, broke down and sobbed as he told the world: "We Have Been Abandoned By Our Own Country. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. "

They knew the big one was coming; the weather reports were unequivocal:

URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...

HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER.

AT LEAST HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED...ALL WINDOWS WILL BE BLOWN OUT.

THE VAST MAJORITY...OF TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.
There wasn't the slightest doubt that it was coming, it was going to be huge and it would be unprecedented in its destructive fury.

For years a host of city officials and environmentalists, even the Army Corps of Engineers, had repeatedly begged for the resources and policies to defend New Orleans from the storm listed as the second most perilous disaster facing the United States -- second only to the terrorist strike that hit New York City. Bush's response was to cut funding by a crippling 80%.

Then, four months ago, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard (the man pictured above) tried one more time to press the issue, warning the Bush Administration in the baldest terms of the imminent catastrophe:

"...nowhere in the world is a coastal region losing wetlands and protective barrier islands faster than Louisiana. About this there is no doubt. It is predicted that by 2050, one third of coastal Louisiana will have vanished into the Gulf of Mexico. Our coast and its wetlands is a system on the verge of collapse. Without wetlands to buffer storms, our people and property and the nation's energy supply are at risk. Oil and gas pipelines and facilities, which provide 25% of the Nation's energy needs, are more vulnerable with each storm. Oil and gas activities and federal actions to control the Mississippi River for navigation and flood control are largely responsible for the drastic loss of our coastal.

PACE believes we are completely within our right to ask the federal government to share money generated from offshore oil and gas revenues with the coastal states that bear a disproportionate burden in supporting this nation's energy needs....

PACE believes Louisiana can no longer afford to wait. Louisiana urgently needs guaranteed resources to thwart a catastrophe that is not being given the sense of urgency that it demands....

The President, in this Policy Statement, has failed us.... Now, it's time for the President to step up to the plate and support funding to prevent the untold damage to the ecology, economy and potential loss of life in large numbers.
And as the monstrous mother of all storms began to close in, scientists made absolutely sure word got to those ostensibly in charge of handling the emergency:

"Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, told the Times-Picayune Sunday afternoon that officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, including FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, listened in on electronic briefings given by his staff in advance of Hurricane Katrina slamming Louisiana and Mississippi–and were advised of the storm's potential deadly effects.

"Mayfield said the strength of the storm and the potential disaster it could bring were made clear during both the briefings and in formal advisories, which warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings," the paper reported. "He said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornados to accompany the storm as it came ashore."
This raises chilling, inexplicable, stomach-churning questions about FEMA's -- and the White House's -- "response".

The video of Broussard on meet the press is heartbreaking. And, what's worse, he describes some exceptionally ODD and very, very frightening behavior on the part of FEMA. I urge you to watch the video, but the transcription, with particularly significant portions highlighted, follows. Please bear in mind, too, that this is on SEPTEMBER THE FOURTH, FULLY ONE WEEK AFTER THE DISASTER STRUCK:


Jefferson Parish President Broussard, let me start with you. You just heard the director of Homeland Security's explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?

MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership.

It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It's got to be able to come in and save lives.

We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to-- reconstructing FEMA.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Broussard, let me ask--I want to ask--should...

MR. BROUSSARD: You know, just some quick examples...

MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?

MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet
, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.

Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America--American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.

But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she's done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn't foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it.

MR. RUSSERT: All right.

MR. BROUSSARD: I'm telling you most importantly I want to thank my public employees...

MR. RUSSERT: All right.

MR. BROUSSARD: ...that have worked 24/7. They're burned out, the doctors, the nurses. And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President...

MR. BROUSSARD: Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, shut up and send us somebody.

MR. RUSSERT: Just take a pause, Mr. President. While you gather yourself in your very emotional times, I understand, let me go to Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Why was FEMA stopping emergency supplies? Why on Earth were they CUTTING EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS LINES (that the sheriff had to restore and DEFEND AT GUNPOINT?!?

Read these statements again:

"Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. "

"The calvary's STILL not here.... It's been a WEEK...."
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin corroborated the astounding, confounding, completely inexplicable lack of help:

"It's politics, man, and they're playing games, and they're spinning. They're out there spinning for the cameras."

Interviewer: "Can't they just ... If nothing else, can't they if nothing else look at... 25% of their energy coming from this state is not flowing through the pipelines? We're on the verge of ANARCHY. Can't they understand that, they're... if nothing else, they're going to be hurt politically?!?"

"I keep hearing that it's coming, this is coming, that is coming and my answer to that today is BS -- where's the beef?"

"...I've talked directly to the President.... I basically told [Bush] we have an incredible crisis here, and that his flying over it on Air Force One does not do it justice."

"They don't have a CLUE what's going on down here. They flew down here, ONE time TWO DAYS after the doggone event was over, with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kinds of goddamned -- excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed."

"...there is NOTHING happening, and they're feeding the public a line of bull and they're spinning and people are dying down here."

"And I don't wanna see anybody do anymore goddamned press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences..... The city of New Orleans will never be the same. And it's time...."
At which point, mayor, crew and interviewer all break down in tears.

Eyewitness Bryce Giescer, volunteering during the rescue mission at the Astrodome, where 11,000 evacuees were held, also corroborates the accounts reporting that, at least as of the 1st of September -- FOUR DAYS AFTER THE STORM (and I quote): "FEMA was nowhere to be seen".

In fact, as outraged NBC Nightly News Anchor Brain Williams notes, it wasn't until YESTERDAY -- OVER A WEEK LATER -- THAT THE FOOD AIRLIFTS BEGAN:

"...the most outrageous news pictures of this day may be those of progress: The palettes of food and water that have just been dropped at selected landing zones in the downtown area of New Orleans. It's an outrage because all of those elements existed before people died for lack of them: There was water, there was food, and there were choppers to drop both. Why no one was able to combine them in an air drop is a cruel and criminal mystery of this dark chapter in our recent history. The words "failure of imagination" come to mind. The concept of an air drop of supplies was one we apparently introduced to the director of FEMA during a live interview on Nightly News on Thursday evening. (Watch Brian's interview with FEMA Dir. Michael Brown from Sept. 1.) He responded by saying that he'd been unaware of the thousands gathered at the Convention Center. Later that evening an incredulous Ted Koppel on ABC was left with no choice but to ask if the FEMA director was watching the same television coverage as the rest of the nation.
Another odd mystery can be found in the Katrina emergency relief documentation regarding the disaster. The White House authorized disaster relief on August 27th, but quite blatantly omitted aid to areas around and including New Orleans, areas that they had been specifically told would be the hardest hit.

The areas for which Bush specifically authorized emergency aid before returning to his vacation were limited to:
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 Parrishes.


Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco followed up with a plea for aid to the following specific areas a day later:
Parishes expected to receive major damage based on the anticipated track of Hurricane Katrina are: Ascension, Assumption Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne and Washington.

In addition, we are expecting the following parishes to suffer significant damage as tropical storm force winds and heavy rainfall occur in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina's landfall: Acadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. Mary, St. Martin, Vermilion, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.


but by then, of course, it was too late -- Bush was busy delivering a cake in California (thus sentencing as-yet-uncounted thousands to slow, horrific death -- a record number even for him)

In fact, in a BBC interview US Northern Command Lieutenant Commander Sean Kelly said relief efforts were delayed for days awaiting signoff as Bush ate cake and jammed on his spiffy new guitar. If this is true, and can be confirmed, it means Bush knowingly allowed the deaths of unknown thousands of Americans through criminal negligence.

Folks, the clock is still ticking. People are still dying. Bush and his lackeys continue to prove we cannot entrust our safety to them. In fact, the opposite is true -- we have the paper trail, we can now prove absolutely, completely, unquestionably that they stood back and allowed the great city of New Orleans to die.

However, they have apparently seen the error of their ways and begun a campaign to repair the damage -- to their political reputation:

Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan. The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.

As a result, Americans watching television coverage of the disaster this weekend began to see, amid the destruction and suffering, some of the most prominent members of the administration - Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense; and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state - touring storm-damaged communities. [Bush's] first visit, on Friday, left some Republicans cringing, in part because the president had little contact with residents left homeless. Republicans said the administration's effort to stanch the damage had been helped by the fact that convoys of troops and supplies had begun to arrive by the time the administration officials turned up. All of those developments were covered closely on television.

In many ways, the unfolding public relations campaign reflects the style Mr. Rove has brought to the political campaigns he has run for Mr. Bush. For example, administration officials who went on television on Sunday were instructed to avoid getting drawn into exchanges about the problems of the past week, and to turn the discussion to what the government is doing now....

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. These officials said that Mr. Bush and his political aides rapidly changed course in what they acknowledged was a belated realization of the situation's political ramifications. As is common when this White House confronts a serious problem, management was quickly taken over by Mr. Rove and a group of associates including Mr. Bartlett. Neither man responded to requests for comment.
The Washington Post echoes the coverage, saying the entire Administration was on vacation when Hell was unleashed upon Gulf Coast Americans, and Bush's operatives are now desperately trying to shift the blame for their face-slappingly stunning indifference onto the Governor and local officials:

Louisiana officials pushed back hard against the White House yesterday, sharply criticizing President Bush for offering a tentative and insufficient response to the obliteration of New Orleans and then trying to shift the blame to the state and local governments.
But Americans aren't buying it, apparently - yet. As the NY Daily News reported:

Bush gets chilly reception
President Bush returned to the scene of Hurricane Katrina's fury yesterday and got a cold shoulder from Louisiana's governor and a cool reception from survivors.... Hugging mothers and babies, he seemed to win over some shelter residents who rushed forward for autographs and photos. Still, many others hung back and viewed the hoopla as a publicity stunt that will have no impact on their effort to rebuild their lives."I need answers," said Mildred Brown. "I'm not interested in handshaking. I'm not interested in photo ops."

Wayne Johnson, 40, who sought shelter at Bethany with 30 members of his extended family, said he shook the President's hand. But he was unable to shake the feeling that New Orleans had been forsaken by the feds at its darkest hour.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also put in a token appearance well past the point when his intervention could have mattered, touring a New Orleans international airport medical facility. He is reported to have engaged in macho black-slapping and light chatting with military and rescue officials before stepping over the bodies of a few of the little people.

See, like a tin man, overly gaudy painted smile unable to hide the odd incongruencies, the desperate attempts to appear genuinely human, Rumsfeld -- like his dark masters -- has no heart. So, try as he might, he and Bush and Cheney and Rice and the whole creepy gang can practice the walk, the handshake, the breezy grin, but there's something missing -- a light behind the eyes, a sense of timing, an empathic spark of warmth -- that gives them away. And those of us that are watching can see them for what they really are, the two-legged equivalent of piranha, heartless, merciless, insatiable killing machines.

Quote of the Day:
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
--T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

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