Friday, September 02, 2005

Demanding Accountability

The morning after another night of outrage watching news coverage of New Orleans.

I witnessed two interviews of FEMA head Michael Brown by, first, Brian Williams of NBC News and then later by Paula Zahn of CNN. By now you've probably read of Brown's claim, incredible, that FEMA didn't know about the situation at the Convention Center until Thursday.

Along with the refugee camp being staged at the Superdome, the nearby Convention Center has served as a gathering point for refugees. Apparently, city officials directed residents to the convention center in lieu of going to the overcrowded Superdome but have not provided any semblence of administration there, from security to food, water, medical aid and resting accomodations. Today's NYT reported that armed "thugs" have in effect commandeered the convention center and prevented eight teams of eleven NO police officers from gaining entrance to the area.

This is just mind boggling. Where is the New Orleans city administration on this? Where are the city officials and staff personnel? If NO is like just about any other city, where are it's public health, police, budget, transportation, maintenance, parks/recreation, utility and other workers, staff and managers? They should have been sent to administer the area. How could the city have directed residents to this area and then left it completely unsecured and unsupplied?

And yes, for the third day in a row I am wondering where the federal and NG food and water drops are? I was gratified to see a picture on the front page of today's Wash Post that at least one helicopter is reported to have made such a drop in the area, finally, but how wide spread the aid is now and what other measures are being taken to get the refugees the medical help they need and to get them out of there once these needs are taken care of is unclear.

Where are the refugee camps? They can't stay at the Astrodome in Houston forever. New arrivals are in fact being turned away. Why aren't underused or abandoned military bases being prepared and opened?

Watching the TV coverage has been frustrating in two main ways: one, it begs for help that other than donating to the Red Cross one is unable to provide; and two, all the anecdotal reporting doesn't help in understanding the logistics of it all. How and when were residents directed to the Convention Center? Where are the government officials and staff? Who's in charge? What was the plan? What did the governments responsible know and when did they know it?

The newspaper coverage is a bit better but still much too incomplete and patchy.

On the political, and even less tasteful front, we're beginning to see the outlines of the responses by the administration's apologists. The apologists offer many responses, but all are misdirections, blame the victims, and outright untruths designed to ensure that the administration is not held responsible for any of the problem. Not responsible for the underfinancing of the Army Corps of Engineers Louisiana projects, not responsible for information indicating the levees might brake, not responsible for ensuring that FEMA was adequately staff, managed and funded, not responsible for evacuating the refugees or providing for their needs, not responsible for ensuring that adequate numbers of a state's NG were on hand ready to help in case of emergencies, or that their equipment for combatting flooded conditions were also in Louisiana rather than in Mesopotamia.

Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the usually-patsy media isn't buying it. Anderson Cooper ripped, ripped, ripped LA senator Mary Landrieu for offering up mushy praise for fellow politicians while, in Anderson's words, dead bodies were being devoured by rats. Paula Zahn ripped, ripped, ripped FEMA head Michael Brown for supposedly not knowing about the conditions at the convention center. CNN's resident crabby old guy, Jack McCafferty, ripped, ripped, ripped (scroll down) the federal response to the disaster and the obvious racial and class dimension to the crisis.

This is the administration's (and its media and Internets water carriers) anti-911. Bold words and bullhorns won't cut it. There's no foreign enemy to blame, no axis of evil country to bomb or invade, there's no foreign religion, language or culture to "clash" with. And as for "national security" and protecting the lives of Americans, well, all this crisis does is reveal the fallacy of promoting military ventures and arms expenditures at the expense of real homeland security and disaster prevention. Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Powerrocket, Lileks, Sullivan, LGF, and FreeRepublik all claim they have the interests of American lives at heart. Do they? From their initial responses to the tragedy, it would appear that they don't, or that they at least don't have the value the lives of all Americans equally. Or else their use of 9-11 has been merely window dressing to cover their anti-humanitarian, anti-liberty conservative agenda.

And what of those in higher, elected and appointed places? I want to believe that Krugman is not right here when he says,

I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures.

But whatever the intent and the motivation of today's leadership, the end result has been to ask, in the words of Arianna Huffington,

Are People Dying Over Here Because We're Fighting Them Over There?

And after some initial qualms about this, I have to say I'm with Wolcott,

There is no "next week" when it comes to getting answers and fixing accountability for failure under this president. Next week never comes.

Look at 9/11. There were tough questions about the breakdown of communications at Ground Zero, the lateness in scrambling fighter jets once the hijacked planes were heading toward NY and DC, Bush's strange behavior on that day, etc., and in the aftermath those questions were considered inappropriate, "divisive." We needed to grieve first, heal; and then the tough questions could be raised.

But they weren't. As months passed, the focus was on overthrowing the Taliban and avenging 9/11, and tough questions were taken off the table as the drumbeat was about the Nation Moving Forward. The media fell into zombie lockstep behind the invigorated Bush agenda. It took the 9/11 widows and esp the "Jersey Girls" to push and shame the Congress, the media, and the administration into launching a proper investigation, otherwise it would have all slid into the memory hole apart from the iconic images of the smoking towers before their collapse.

No, this is the time for politics, none better, because I can tell you just from being out of NY a few days that a lot of people in this country are shocked and sobered by New Orleans, but they're also worried and pissed off. They're making the connection between the money, manpower, and resources expended in Iraq and how raggedy-ass the rescue effort has been in the Gulf. If you don't say it now when people's nerves are raw and they're paying full attention, it'll be too late once the waters receded and the media-emoting "healing process" begins.

1 comment:

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