Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Total Failure of Leadership

Kevin Drum passes on part of a live report broadcast on National Public Radio (via Laura Rozen):

John Burnett: There are 2,000 people living outside the convention center. There is no food. There is absolutely no water. There is no medical treatment. There are no police. There are two dead bodies on the ground and in a wheel chair around the convention center, both elderly people. We understand two more died earlier.

We understand that a 10 year old girl was raped in the convention center in the last two nights. Pople are absolutely desperate there.

I have never seen anything like this.

....Host: Is there someone in charge?

John Burnett: No. There is no one. There is no one in charge of this effort. They seem to be throwing it back between national guard, city police and state police. The plan seems to be changing by the hour. These people were told to go to the superdome, then to the convention center, then they were told buses would pick them up, but nothing is happening...

In a separate post, Kevin provides a timeline showing how the FEMA budget was cut and its ability to handle a catastrophe like Katrina degraded as a result of specific decisions made by the Bush administration. Here's the bottom line:

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

This morning, Pres. Bush told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning, America:

I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.

Obviously, he didn't know that the levees were at risk of breaching, but others did, and said so, more than once. You'd think Bush would at least make an attempt to find this out before making a fool of himself on national tv.

Even though the levees were vulnerable to breaking, and New Orleans' flood control infrastructure in general was in serious need of repair, the Bush administration insisted on cutting the Corps' budget -- over the strong objections of the former head of the Army Corps of Engineers, as an article on tells us. (Via Laura Rozen.)

As levees burst and floods continued to spread across areas hit by Hurricane Katrina yesterday, a former chief of the Army Corps of Engineers disparaged senior White House officials for "not understanding" that key elements of the region's infrastructure needed repair and rebuilding.

Mike Parker, the former head of the Army Corps of Engineers, was forced to resign in 2002 over budget disagreements with the White House. He clashed with Mitch Daniels, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, which sets the administration's annual budget goals.

Via Shakespeare's Sister, Scott Lemieux quotes at length from a Washington Post article describing the Dante-esque conditions at the Superdome:

There are four levels of hell inside the refugee city of the Superdome, home to about 15,000 people since Sunday. On the artificial-turf field and in the lower-level seats where Montrel sat sweltering with her family, a form of civilization had taken hold -- smelly, messy, dark and dank, but with a structure. Families with cots used their beds as boundaries for personal space and kept their areas orderly, a cooler on one corner, the toys on another, almost as if they had come for fireworks and stayed too long.

The bathrooms, clogged and overflowing since Monday, announced the second level of hell, the walkway ringing the entrance level. In the men's, the urinal troughs were overflowing. In the women's, the bowls were to the brim. A slime of excrement and urine made the walkway slick. "You don't even go there anymore," said Dee Ford, 37, who was pushed in a wading pool from her flooded house to the shelter. "You just go somewhere in a corner where you can. In the dark, you are going to step in poo anyway."

Water and electricity both failed Monday, and three pumps to pressurize plumbing have been no match "when the lake just keeps pushing it back at us," said Maj. Ed Bush, the chief public affairs officer for the Louisiana National Guard.

"With no hand-washing, and all the excrement," said Sgt. Debra Williams, who was staffing the infirmary in the adjacent sports arena, "you have about four days until dysentery sets in. And it's been four days today."

Bottled water was too precious to use for washing; adults get two bottles a day. Food, mostly Meals Ready-to-Eat, is dispensed in a different line. Many refugees told of waiting in line for hours only to be told no food was left.

Within the skyboxes, on the third level of hell, life was dark 24 hours a day, a place for abandonment and coupling. Also up there was "a sort of speakeasy," said Michael Childs, who had some beer in an empty Dannon water bottle. "You got to know where to go," he said, and grinned. "And you just put your bottle under the spigot. It is disgusting in here, and I lost everything I had, and I'm glad to have found a little beer."

On the fourth level, the darkest and highest of all, the lurkers lived, scary in the shadows. The fourth level, people explained, was for the gangsters and the druggies. The rumors sprang from there: Two girls had been raped; one girl had been raped and one killed. Someone was abducting newborns. A man had jumped from there and died. A murder had occurred.

Amid the hell Gulf Coasters are in right now, some helpful advice has arrived from Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog passes it along to us:

Asked in an interview with the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago paper, whether it makes sense to spend billions rebuilding a city that lies below sea level, a reference to New Orleans, Hastert replied, ``I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me.''

He added it was a question ``that certainly we should ask. And, you know, it looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.''
The Average Woman wishes she could be at her computer all day so she could keep up with John Aravosis' coverage of the hurricane disaster. In particular, some of you who have been critical of Pres. Bush for waiting a day after the storm hit to fly back from Crawford, and going back to Washington instead of directly to New Orleans, might want to cut him a break, because you know what? Condi is still on vacation! You can read more of AMERICAblog's coverage here, here, here, and here.

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