A National Disgrace

A house remains untouched from five years ago in the Lower 9th Ward.

That is a term I heard bantered around often over the weekend in describing the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina.

That used to mean something. America was never big on having a national disgrace, but the reference seems to have lost some of its punch. Maybe so much evil has transpired here and abroad that we’ve become desensitized to the trauma, and consumed with life in the modern age. Are we too busy for a national disgrace?

I’m not exactly sure what the appropriate response to a national disgrace should be, but we don’t seem to have one. We let the Bush administration’s manipulation of the post-September 11th agenda slide, the Iraq War, Katrina, none of that ever boiled over. The escalating gas prices almost got people out of their chairs, but like with the BP oil spill, we would prefer to pay a little more for our energy consumption instead of actually changing our habits.

I’m not sure if it’s all the fabulous cable entertainment now offered, or the plethora of mind-numbing mood stabilizers this country is gulping down, perhaps both, but apathy is rampant in America.

It’s nearly impossible to point a finger at the precise cause. There are all these wonderful self-help items out there to improve our lives, and choices upon choices of everything, along with enough political talk-radio backwash to fill up every sewer in the country.

At some point it becomes easier to tune it all out. Why not go grab a four-pound Angus cheeseburger, a trough of fries and a vat of coke, go back to the crib and chill to some “Desperate Housewives.”

Some extensive saturated fats, a Xanax or two and cable will keep anyone numb all night. And that’s far easier than trying to figure out the intricacies of who was right and who was wrong – until the national disgrace goes down in your town.

Admittedly, the United States doesn’t have a very accessible system to register protests. Half the country doesn’t vote, so holding politicians’ feet to the fire is hard. Everybody works and has obligations, making it nearly impossible to arbitrarily attend a protest.

It’s hard to figure out a way to meaningfully impact an issue. And that makes it easier for the system to get over on us, and pushes the bar ever higher for what is considered a national disgrace.

I’m stepping off my Katrina soapbox now and moving on. But here are a few of the choicest moments from the scandal that I re-discovered while researching over the weekend.

Vice President Dick Cheney held up his role as villain admirably, as he is documented as calling the manager of the Southern Pines Electric Power Association on the night of August 30, and again the next morning, personally ordering him to divert power crews to electrical substations in nearby Collins, Mississippi, that were essential to the operation of the Colonial Pipeline, which carries gasoline and diesel fuel from Texas to the Northeast. The power crews were reportedly upset when told what the purpose of the redirection was, since they were in the process of restoring power to two local hospitals, but did so anyway.

FEMA deliberately slowed down its response to Hurricane Katrina. Michael Brown, as head of FEMA, on August 29, urged all fire and emergency services departments not to respond to counties and states affected by Hurricane Katrina without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities under mutual aid agreements and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

FEMA also commandeered 10 buses hired by the Astor Hotel to transport 500 guests to higher ground, instead telling the guests to join thousands of other evacuees at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

FEMA turned away three Wal-Mart trailers loaded with water, prevented the Coast Guard from delivering 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and on Saturday cut the Jefferson Parish emergency communications line, leading the sheriff to restore it and post armed guards to protect it from FEMA.

Mercifully, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recalled Brown to Washington and removed him from the immediate supervision of Hurricane Katrina relief effort on September 9, and replaced him with Vice Admiral Thad. W. Allen from the Coast Guard. This was not in time to prevent President Bush from uttering one of the more unfortunate platitudes in American history, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

You gotta love Bush – he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

A 2006 congressional report entitled, “Failure of Initiative,” found the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina a “failure of leadership” that left the people stranded when they were most in need.

“Our investigation revealed that Katrina was a national failure, and abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare,” the report said.

This came from a Republican 11-member House select committee that investigated the response to Katrina at the local, state and federal level.

The panel found that President Bush was not “fully involved,” Secretary Chertoff was “detached” and that then Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown was “clueless, said U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT).

I mention the above examples because there was so much happening during Katrina, that the television images of a flooded city perhaps overcame the statements and acts perpetrated by our government. They became lost in the background, but when you look back even briefly at what was allowed to pass as a government response, it’s mind-boggling.

You have to be impressed with the spin control, because someone should have been shot or jailed, but that never happened.

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Published by:  Cedilla | Vol. IV | Missoula, MT | 09-20-10

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