Saturday, September 03, 2005

Undisposed bodies in a less-than-ideal world

"In an ideal world, we would pick up and dispose of any cadavers," Secretary of Homeland "Security" Michael Chertoff said at a press conference Sept. 1. But "[w]e're not in an ideal world."

Army Photo by Spc. Kevin Gropp
Political reporters like to know "where the bodies are buried." But, as we've watched the scenes of horror from the Gulf coast in the past week, the bodies were in plain sight.

And the body count has been building for a long time: Hurricane Katrina only adds to the toll. The coffins are returning almost every week from Iraq, in hushed-up military ceremonies that are never publicized except in rare cases where families refuse the cloak of secrecy. So Secretary Chertoff is wrong. The Bush administration has known for a long time how to "pick up and dispose" of its cadavers. But this mendacious talent for concealing the human cost of the President's failures seemed to fail this week: nobody could keep the press away from the bloated corpses floating down flooded streets, lying in full view outside the Superdome, or discovered in shattered houses up and down the Gulf Coast.

Is there a connection between the endless war in Iraq and the federal government's tragic incompetence during the first critical days and nights of this horror? Of course there is. On Aug. 4 New Orleans TV station WGNO reported prophetically: "When members of the Louisiana National Guard left for Iraq in October, they took a lot equipment with them. Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad, and in the event of a major natural disaster that, could be a problem."

Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Smith
High-water vehicles? Humvees? Refuelers and generators? Today (Saturday)—five days after the hurricane and one day after federal aid finally began to arrive—thousands of citizens are still stranded in their homes without food, water, electricity and sanitation. The elderly and the chronically ill have died by the hundreds (if not thousands) in hospitals and shelters where, without power, conditions quickly reverted to the pre-industrial age. The New Orleans police report that many officers are deserting their posts in despair, and two have committed suicide. The thousands of troops Bush has ordered into the city may be able to restrain looting but have no training in either disaster relief or rescue operations.

Now the President and his Homeland Security czar are claiming the devastation was a bolt out of the blue. Who saw it coming? Apparently, no one. "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees," Bush said Thursday with a straight face. The magnitude of the disaster was "breathtaking in its surprise," Chertoff echoed. It "exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight."

That, of course, is a breathtaking lie. The Army Corps of Engineers warned as recently as May that disaster threatened the city and reminded the Administration that funds to strengthen the flood barriers had never been allocated. In 2001 the Federal Emergency Management Administration (now under Chertoff's mismanagement) said the United States faced three likely disaster scenarios that would require massive response: a terrorist attack, a California earthquake, and the flooding of New Orleans.

But the Administration had other priorities.

Other stories on this subject

Warnings went ignored as Bush slashed flood budget to pay for wars
Iraq war diverted funds from flood control preparations
Scientific American predicted disaster
Officials warned for years of flood danger
Maureen Dowd: United States of Shame
Paul Krugman: a can't-do government


At 5:57 PM, Blogger RevJen said...

I've been reading blogs and news accounts almost obsessively for days. Now I'm trying to figure out what to do with the anger. New accounts pour in about the assistance FEMA has blocked or turned away -- truckloads of bottled water from Walmart, firefighting ships, even the Red Cross denied entry to New Orleans by the National Guard so that "people wouldn't be motivated not to evacuate." Then Bush's visit -- during which helicopter flights offering aid were suspended and a "foodline" was set up to function in the background, only to be dismantled as soon as the cameras were turned off.

Where does the anger go?

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Zeppellina said...

The richest country in the world could take care of its own people if it really wanted to.
If that diaster had been in a different part of America, and a different average wage bracket, it would have been a different story.
It is a disgrace.

At 10:46 PM, Blogger RevJen said...

To the editor:

In his article Bush Says He Will Move Quickly to Name Rehnquist Successor [9/4/2005], David Stout slips in this line: "But given Mr. Bush's history of acting boldly when he is under pressure, as he is now with the war and Gulf Coast disaster, the Democrats will not be surprised if Mr. Bush picks someone not to their liking."

Perhaps you could enlighten me as to just exactly when it was that President Bush acted "boldly" in the Gulf Coast disaster. Was it when he stayed at his ranch in Texas as the hurricane was wreaking its devastation on the Gulf Coast? Perhaps it was when, instead of going to the scene of the disaster during those last days of vacation, he went to give some political speeches before safe audiences. Perhaps it was when he dropped Air Force One to 1700 feet during a flyover so he could pretend to see the degree of devastation. Perhaps it was when he actually ventured forth to New Orleans to pose for television cameras in front of a fake feeding station. Or maybe it was when, during that same visit, the helicopters bringing aid to victims had to be grounded for his security.

Tell me again about his boldness, Mr. Stout. I'm not sure I see it.


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