Like everyone, I feel shock, horror, and awful fascination as I watch the news stories and photos of the disaster in New Orleans and Mississippi. But the situation also makes me angry—incredibly angry—at the federal government, whose incompetence and obliviousness to the whole situation seems increasingly unbelievable.
It seems likely that there are more hurricanes and stronger ones thanks to global warming. That’s not really anyone’s fault but it should be a wakeup call that it’s time to do something to curb CO2 emissions. And yes, we have known about New Orleans’ vulnerability to flooding for almost 300 years (Google cache version here), yet no one has done anything about it except put up obviously underbuilt levees and canals and pumps. In fact, FEMA funds earmarked for levee reinforcement may have been diverted to Homeland Security—a sad irony. But what really gets me mad is the complete obliviousness of the federal government to the realities of the situation on the ground right now.
Yesterday afternoon Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff was saying “everything is under control” at the Superdome, at the very same time that the mayor of New Orleans was saying “SOS” and the news was showing pictures of dead bodies and angry people. Chertoff was interviewed on NPR last night and asked, repeatedly, when the 2,000 people at the New Orleans Convention Center could expect to receive food and water, or transportation out of there. He dodged and evaded the question repeatedly, and clearly had no idea that there were even any people at the Convention Center, or where it was located (12 blocks from the Superdome). His ignorance of the situation on the ground was astonishing (“you can’t fly helicopters in a hurricane” he says–but the hurricane has been over for almost a week!), and was exceeded only by his apparent efforts to protect his reputation and cover his ass. FEMA is clearly in over its head and has no idea how to handle the situation — and there’s an obvious lack of leadership in the disaster area.
Finally, where has the President been through all of this? He said almost nothing about the crisis until Wednesday, when he made a hastily-arranged flight over New Orleans. I think any previous president of the past 20 years would have flown down to the area long since, put on a windbreaker and a blue FEMA cap, and made numerous photo opportunities shaking people’s hands and hugging them. Not to mention maybe making an address to the nation and asking people to be calm and explaining what the government is doing. Instead, the President returns from New Orleans, meets with Alan Greenspan, and makes a statement (on Thursday) that “we view this storm as a temporary disruption that is being addressed by the government and by the private sector.” What unbelievable callousness. People are dying in their own feces, without water or food, and he is reassuring us about the economic impact? Give me a break.
What makes it even harder for me to believe is that this storm hit the South — a big stronghold of support for Bush — and that the wave of refugees will have a big impact on his home state of Texas. I understand why he snubs a hotbed of liberalism like San Francisco. But doesn’t he care what these people think?
I think these two pictures sum it all up.