Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Waterworld comes to us....By way of Global Warming

Sucker's Bets for the New Century
By Bill McKibben

Tuesday 06 September 2005

The US after Katrina.
If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of one story - the US safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil of the world - then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story, the one that will dominate our politics in the coming decades of this century: America befuddled about how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable.

Over and over last week, people said that the scenes from the convention center, the highway overpasses, and the other suddenly infamous Crescent City venues didn't "look like America," that they seemed instead to be straight from the Third World. That was almost literally accurate, for poor, black New Orleans (whose life had never previously been of any interest to the larger public) is not so different from other poor and black parts of the world: its infant mortality and life expectancy rates, its educational achievement statistics mirroring scores of African and Latin American enclaves.

But it was accurate in another way, too, one full of portent for the future. A decade ago, environmental researcher Norman Myers began trying to add up the number of humans at risk of losing their homes from global warming. He looked at all the obvious places - coastal China, India, Bangladesh, the tiny island states of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Nile delta, Mozambique, on and on - and predicted that by 2050 it was entirely possible that 150 million people could be "environmental refugees," forced from their homes by rising waters. That's more than the number of political refugees sent scurrying by the bloody century we've just endured.

Try to imagine, that is, the chaos that attends busing 15,000 people from one football stadium to another in the richest nation on Earth, and then multiply it by four orders of magnitude and re-situate your thoughts in the poorest nations on earth.

And then try to imagine doing it over and over again - probably without the buses.

Because so far, even as blogs and websites all over the Internet fill with accusations about the scandalous lack of planning that led to the collapse of the levees in New Orleans, almost no one is addressing the much larger problems: the scandalous lack of planning that has kept us from even beginning to address climate change, and the sad fact that global warming means the future will be full of just this kind of horror.

Consider the first problem for just a minute. No single hurricane is "the result" of global warming. But a month before Katrina hit, MIT hurricane specialist Kerry Emmanuel published a landmark paper in the British science magazine Nature showing that tropical storms were now lasting half again as long and spinning winds 50% more powerful than just a few decades before. The only plausible cause: the ever-warmer tropical seas on which these storms thrive. Katrina, a Category 1 storm when it crossed Florida, roared to full life in the abnormally hot water of the Gulf of Mexico. It then punched its way into Louisiana and Mississippi - the latter a state now governed by Haley Barbour, who in an earlier incarnation as a GOP power broker and energy lobbyist helped persuade President Bush to renege on his promise to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

So far the US has done exactly nothing even to try to slow the progress of climate change: We're emitting far more carbon than we were in 1988, when scientists issued their first prescient global-warming warnings. Even if, at that moment, we'd started doing all that we could to overhaul our energy economy, we'd probably still be stuck with the 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in global average temperature that's already driving our current disruptions. Now scientists predict that without truly dramatic change in the very near future, we're likely to see the planet's mercury rise five degrees before this century is out. That is, five times more than we've seen so far.

Which leads us to the second problem: For the ten thousand years of human civilization, we've relied on the planet's basic physical stability. Sure, there have been hurricanes and droughts and volcanoes and tsunamis, but averaged out across the Earth, it's been a remarkably stable run. If your grandparents inhabited a particular island, chances were that you could too. If you could grow corn in your field, you could pretty much count on your grandkids being able to do likewise. Those are now sucker's bets - that's what those predictions about environmental refugees really mean.

Here's another way of saying it: In the last century, we've seen change in human societies speed up to an almost unimaginable level, one that has stressed every part of our civilization. In this century, we're going to see the natural world change at the same kind of rate. That's what happens when you increase the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere. That extra energy expresses itself in every way you can imagine: more wind, more evaporation, more rain, more melt, more... more... more.

And there is no reason to think we can cope. Take New Orleans as an example. It is currently pro forma for politicians to announce that it will be rebuilt, and doubtless it will be. Once. But if hurricanes like Katrina go from once-in-a-century storms to once-in-a-decade-or-two storms, how many times are you going to rebuild it? Even in America there's not that kind of money - especially if you're also having to cope with, say, the effects on agriculture of more frequent and severe heat waves, and the effects on human health of the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria, and so on ad infinitum. Not to mention the costs of converting our energy system to something less suicidal than fossil fuel, a task that becomes more expensive with every year that passes.

Our rulers have insisted by both word and deed that the laws of physics and chemistry do not apply to us. That delusion will now start to vanish. Katrina marks Year One of our new calendar, the start of an age in which the physical world has flipped from sure and secure to volatile and unhinged. New Orleans doesn't look like the America we've lived in. But it very much resembles the planet we will inhabit the rest of our lives.

Bill McKibben is the author of many books on the environment and related topics. His first, The End of Nature, was also the first book for a general audience on global warming. His most recent is Wandering Home, A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape.

Protected from Our Administration's Machinations?

Katrina Leaves Us Asking:
Are We Prepared? Are We Protected?
By John Sugg and Ken Edelstein
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 07 September 2005

(Photo: John Sugg)

The sign in front of a Katrina-blasted Baptist church about 10 miles north of Pascagoula, Miss., optimistically proclaimed that "God is good all the time."

But along the Gulf Coast, where the only commodities in full supply are death and despair, faith certainly is being tested - not so much in God as in our leaders here on Earth. For in the wake of our government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Americans now must ask if we're safer or more secure than we were before 9/11.

The evidence throws back a scary answer: Maybe not. Katrina wasn't a surprise. Weather and disaster gurus have long warned that a hurricane would do precisely what Katrina did to New Orleans. The clearest alarm rang in 2001, months before 9/11, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency told Congress and the president that three massive disasters might hit American cities: a terrorist attack on New York City, an earthquake in San Francisco, and a Category 4 or 5 storm swamping New Orleans.

Now, two of those disasters have come to pass. And astoundingly, we were less prepared for this one than we were for the first. There was plenty of blame to go around. New Orleans' evacuation plan didn't adequately account for thousands of residents who couldn't (or wouldn't) bullet out of town before the storm hit. Disaster agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi were quickly overwhelmed by Katrina and unable to muster any kind of counteroffensive on their own.

But the harshest criticism was aimed at FEMA, whose lack of urgency, followed by paralysis, became more obvious as the week wore on. State and local leaders, as well as officials, volunteers and ordinary citizens in states and cities as distant as Chicago, are seething with frustration as they recount bureaucratic foot-dragging, missed opportunities to deliver aid and, in many cases, a baffling failure to act at all.

Among the disappointed were members of the Georgia-3 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, whom the feds shuttled around four states for five days without giving them an opportunity to treat the people they'd volunteered to help.

Four-hundred miles northeast of the disaster area, such complaints should concern us. Like other Americans, we've watched nervously as the federal government lurched toward a supposedly improved homeland security apparatus.

Now, Atlantans have plenty of reason for angst. While our geography makes a cataclysmic hurricane unlikely, the nearby - and ever more populated - Georgia coast is plenty vulnerable. Meanwhile, Atlanta itself may prove a tempting target for terrorists. Aside from being a population center, we have the world's busiest airport, the world's marquee news network, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roy Barnes, who was Georgia's governor during the 9/11 attacks, says terrorism was his "greatest fear" while in office. Now, however, with an entire brigade of Georgia National Guard members in Iraq, he says he'd worry more about a major natural disaster.

"We just don't have the National Guard to deal with it," Barnes told CL last week. "You need people to keep order, cut trees, hold water and all that stuff. A terrorist attack that we are most likely to get in Atlanta would be smaller. It wouldn't be an airplane flying into a building. It would probably be a very specific disruption at the airport that may not be large, but would bring the whole airport to a stop."

Nature's strike against New Orleans was utterly predictable, in a way that a handful of hijackers plowing planes into specific buildings one random morning couldn't have been.

We knew where, how, and, to some extent, when the hurricane would hit. A huge storm would step up from the Gulf and thrust a counterclockwise surge through Lake Pontchartrain, north of the city. That powerful right hook would punch through New Orleans' inadequate levees, and the city would fill, like a tub, with chemical- and sewage-infested water.

Thousands would die, amid billions of dollars in property damage. The shipping and oil industries would suffer grievous wounds. New Orleans would be brought to her knees, perhaps never to rise again.

Despite those projections, the administration was woefully late in even comprehending the scale of the crisis, much less responding to it. In a speech in San Diego on the Tuesday after Katrina hit, President Bush devoted barely 5 percent of the text to the catastrophe enveloping New Orleans and the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama.

He later called the disaster a "temporary disruption that's being addressed." His Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, beamed on Wednesday, "We are extremely pleased with the response of every element of the federal government."

At the same time, TV was beginning to show bodies floating in the streets, drowned children pulled from attics of flooded homes, murder and looting, thousands of citizens crying in distress, whole communities having vanished - and local officials screaming, Where is the federal government? Incredibly, Bush shrugged: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Yet, four years ago, precisely in response to an anticipated breach, Bush's own US Army Corps of Engineers had proposed a $14 billion project to protect the city. That idea was deep-sixed. And in 2003, the administration actually cut funds to improve the levees by 80 percent. It also cut money to restore wetlands that would buffer the city from tropical storms by 90 percent.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans cited the Iraq War as the reason the money was stripped.

"For the first time in 37 years," the newspaper reported 14 months ago, "federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade."

As with 9/11, plenty of leaders - in both parties and at local, state and federal levels - can be faulted for ignoring the looming crisis. The warnings came for many years, well before Bush took office. But last week's events laid bare the folly in not taking them seriously enough even to prepare for disaster relief.

Prior to the Bush administration, FEMA had disaster plans that called for massing of relief supplies, hospital ships and other vessels in rapid-deployment staging areas near New Orleans. But the government has been gutting FEMA over the last four years, and neither Chertoff nor Bush's FEMA chief, Michael Brown (a lawyer and GOP fundraiser), have disaster experience.

(Photo: John Sugg)

Bill Clinton's FEMA director, James Lee Witt, warned Congress last year, "I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared." Last week, Witt fumed from the sidelines that detailed plans for a New Orleans disaster weren't followed.

Adding to the ill-preparedness, some 8,000 of the best trained Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard members - with their high-water Humvees, helicopters and tactics tailor-made for mob control and disaster situations - were unavailable because they're in Iraq.

The paralysis that blighted our response to the disaster may be less disturbing than a broader type of paralysis that the calamity exposed: As a society, we seem unwilling or incapable of confronting our most ominous, long-term risks - especially if confronting them might require inconvenience or sacrifice or simply challenging the status quo.

Take, for example, development along the Southeast's coasts. Ten million people now live along the Gulf, almost quadruple the number during the 1950s. In Florida, 6.8 million live in Gulf Coast counties, plus close to 5 million in the vulnerable southeast corner of the state. Alabama's shoreline is - or was - home to about 727,000 people; Mississippi, more than 600,000; and Louisiana, more than 3.5 million.

On Georgia's Atlantic coast, retiree enclaves and vacation refuges are as plentiful as shrimp. Home to Kings Bay submarine base, Camden County, near the Florida border, has seen its population jump over the last 30 years from 11,000 to 45,000.

A common myth says that the concave geography of Georgia's seaboard makes it a less likely hurricane target. In fact, storm experts say the Georgia bite would combine with our shallow continental shelf to make hurricanes more dangerous: it would squeeze a hurricane's storm surge into a tighter, taller, faster wave.

"The Georgia coast is very vulnerable to hurricanes," assistant state climatologist Pam Knox says. "If you've been along the Georgia coast, you know how flat and swampy it is for a long way inland. If a hurricane hit our coast, there would be a lot of flooding."

For years, FEMA and dozens of other experts have argued that coastal development should be restricted. Yet our federal and local governments are spending vast amounts of tax dollars and outlaying massive insurance guarantees to encourage development. And just as more homes and businesses present valuable targets for hurricanes, they also help to expose the coast by diminishing the wetlands and barrier islands that used to buffer the coast from storms.

Wetland protection, both at the state and federal levels, has been weakened rather than strengthened over the last decade or so, falling victim to the heavy lobbying of developers and now to political appointees who don't even believe in the very wetland-protection laws they're sworn to uphold.

In Louisiana, wetlands are overrun at the rate of 28,000 acres a year. And barrier islands throughout the South have been overrun with condominiums and luxury homes. The coasts' natural storm protection system has been reduced to the equivalent of a condom after repeated punctures with an ice pick.

If Katrina teaches any environmental lessons, however, they're likely to be lost on bureaucrats and politicians who find it easier to please developers than to make hard decisions that might demand short-term sacrifice.

Mississippi's governor is a case in point. With the ruin of his coastal communities all too apparent, Haley Barbour told reporters last week that "we will rebuild and the coast will be bigger and better than ever."

Whether insurance companies - which are now paying claims from the most expensive natural disaster in the nation's history - will underwrite Barbour's ambitions remains to be seen. True leadership would be to preserve the coasts with as little development as possible - and thereby avoid the human and financial tragedy of another Katrina. But official wisdom is in as short supply as potable water along the Gulf Coast.

There may be reasons other than the coasts' increasing vulnerability to fret about future Katrina-like disasters. Three weeks before Katrina struck, William Gray, a University of Colorado weather researcher, upped his estimate of named storms this year from 13 to 20. There has been a steady increase in storm activity since 1995 - keep in mind that 1992's Andrew was the first hurricane that year, yet it happened at about the same time in August that Katrina, 2005's 11th storm, was forming. Meanwhile, an article in the July issue of the journal Nature stated that North Atlantic storms' destructive power had doubled during the last 30 years. The article, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorologist Kerry Emanuel, said slight increases in ocean temperatures, the result of global warming, were a contributing factor.

The Bush administration's response to such information has ranged from indifference to hostility. Bush's energy policies have utterly failed to address global warming issues, and the administration has repeatedly subjugated science to politics. And scientists caution that their projections relate to broad climatological patterns: While most projections indicate that global warming will increase the intensity and frequency of tropical storms, they also say it can't be cited as the cause of any particular hurricane. But would it be a bad thing if Katrina amplified those warnings?

Katrina portends a far more disturbing scenario for America than the destruction of one city and the Southeast's booming coasts, or even than fantastic visions of a nation wrecked by global gasoline shortages.

In Mississippi's Gulf Coast areas the day after the hurricane hit, all semblance of government had disappeared. People wandered aimlessly, thousands of cars were abandoned, homes stood wrecked. At a time when leadership at all levels - especially the federal - was urgently needed, there was a void. The television cameras focused on New Orleans looters and chaos, overshadowing the heroic stories of people helping people. When two CL reporters stopped a car along a Mississippi road near the hamlet of Petal, a teenager, Bo Bingham, rushed out of his devastated trailer home to see if there was aid he could provide.

"We gotta help each other," said Bingham, who had survived the storm huddled in a roller-skating rink. Motels opened their larders to refugees. Police officers, with little guidance from federal or state officials, worked tirelessly to ease distress. A scrawled sign in front of a Mississippi farmhouse offered: "We have room for a few refugees."

But no single person or group has the wherewithal to ameliorate the tragedy of a Katrina-scale disaster. At the most basic level, that's one of the most compelling reasons we have government. And government utterly failed the citizens of New Orleans and coastal Mississippi.

Much as 9/11 shifted the nation's discourse rightward - pushing values like privacy and open discourse aside for national security - Katrina may revive an appreciation for dealing with the natural world in a way that doesn't invite so many problems. Perhaps this trauma will begin to cleanse our lenses a bit and allow us to view things as they really are, rather than as part of some vast fantasyland to be lobbied and spun for political expediency..

Or perhaps, it will not. Perhaps, this nation must stumble blindly through more such tragedies until finally we learn that reality matters.

John Sugg is senior editor of the CL media group. Ken Edelstein is editor of Atlanta's Creative Loafing. Staff members Rebecca Ford, Alejandro Leal and Coley Ward contributed.

Stopped At the Bridge

Hurricane Katrina-Our Experiences

Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth Slonsky

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began
firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

If true, needs to be spread.

Morally Incomprehensible!

Republicans to NOLA: Let them die to teach them obedience.
by TrueBlueMajority
Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 10:24:58 PDT
The Bush Administration and the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have made a series of strange decisions in the week since Hurricane Katrina hit, decisions that are incomprehensible to those of us who value the lives of the people in New Orleans and the other Gulf Coast communities.

Most of us here, people with functioning brains and hearts, are mystified about how they bungled this so badly, because we keep assuming they were on the same page with us about the most important goal of disaster response and relief. You and I and like-minded people all thought saving as many lives as possible before and after the storm was top priority. But suppose the people in charge of this Administration are so profoundly emotionally disordered that saving as many lives as possible is not their top priority?

TrueBlueMajority's diary :: ::
With great effort, I wrenched myself out of a lifetime of compassionate reality-based reasoning, and started considering possible alternative priorities. Suddenly the answer came to me and I was stunned at how it explained everything. It not only explains their response to Hurricane Katrina, but every decision and non-decision made by these people in the last five years wove themselves into one seamless garment. I even felt like a fool for not having figured it out sooner, given everything we know about Lakoff and the Republican neocon mindset.

Their top priority is obtaining and maintaining power and authority.

Doesn't it all make sense now?

Read that again and take in the full magnitude of it. Their top priority is obtaining and maintaining power and authority. If people have to lie, fine. If people have to die, fine. Maybe this has been obvious to other people for a long time but it is only Hurricane Katrina that has made it crystal clear for me. It explains every otherwise inexplicable decision this Administration has made from day one.

Their top priority is obtaining and maintaining power and authority, and apparently the only criterion determining whether you get a job or a promotion in this Administration is whether you are willing to accept this as the primary underlying goal of all your work, regardless of what your actual job description might be according to the rest of the world. The people who receive the highest praise in this Administration are the ones who demonstrate the most consistent loyalty to this overarching goal; and the more opposition you absorb in service to that goal, the more lavishly you are rewarded. Conversely, anyone who takes any action, makes any statement, or in any way implies that other moral, scientific or spiritual factors should be taken into consideration when making policy decisions, is slapped down as severely as possible by an army of conformity enforcers.

In this world, press secretaries do not actually provide information or answer questions. Attorneys General do not investigate willful and persistent violations of law. National Security Advisors ignore warnings about imminent terrorist threats. Secretaries of Defense are unprepared to use military resources wisely. Secretaries of State do not engage in diplomacy. U.N. Ambassadors do not promote the goals or even advocate the continued existence of the U.N. Vice Presidents are not chosen for their ability to advance to the stress and responsibility of the presidency. Homeland Security directors do not plan for the most likely disruptions to national security.

And the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not prepare for a disaster that for years had been called one of the three most catastrophic and deadly disasters that could strike this country, one that didn't even occur suddenly or without warning, but helpfully announced itself several days in advance.

Look at the list of outrageous decisions in David NYCs diary. We called these decisions incompetent, we called them insensitive, we called them racist, and all those assessments are true. But every single one of them can easily be explained by a desire to maintain absolute control over a situation, or to save face by appearing to be in control of a situation even when they are not.

This is what happens when people who don't believe in government are put in charge of government. This is what happens when people pursue government jobs to gain power rather than offer public service. This is what happens when you vote for Republicans.

Now they are doing forced evacuations? Now they are going door to door? Not back when it could have rescued survivors, but now after a week of additional deaths? Maybe they want no witnesses for the thousands of drowned bodies they are going to find in attics and the dehydrated bodies they are going to find in bathrooms. Again, control, control, control. Sacrifice everything in the name of appearing to be in control, even (or most especially) when facts show you are not in control. An entire Administration of hypermasculine fools driving in circles and hopelessly lost but unwilling to accept help or ask for directions, in order not to look weak in front of the redstate voters in the passenger seats who were gullible enough to put their trust in them.

Combine this with the dittohead spin and how can we escape the conclusion that this is all about enforced obedience? "If we provide too much aid, people won't evacuate." "We told them to get out and the ones that didn't get out deserve whatever happens to them." "Local officials didn't request the aid the way they were supposed to." Statements like these boil down to the following horrifying philosophy about the people who lost their lives in New Orleans:

Let them die, to teach them who's running things: their Democratic Mayor and Governor and Senator can do nothing without us.

Let them die to remind them that our "you're on your own" philosophy of government "won" the last two elections.

Let them die so next time the survivors won't expect the government to swoop in and save them.

Let them die, to teach the others what happens to people who don't do things our way.

Let them die, to teach them obedience.

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Firefighters hand out fliers, while New Orleans Burns

Article Last Updated: 09/06/2005 02:04:54 AM

Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA
By Lisa Rosetta
The Salt Lake Tribune

Firefighters endure a day of FEMA training, which included a course on sexual harassment. Some firefighters say their skills are being wasted. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

ATLANTA - Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"
   As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.
    Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.
    Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
    On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
    Federal officials are unapologetic.
"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.
    The firefighters - or at least the fire chiefs who assigned them to come to Atlanta - knew what the assignment would be, Hudak said.
    "The initial call to action very specifically says we're looking for two-person fire teams to do community relations," she said. "So if there is a breakdown [in communication], it was likely in their own departments."
    One fire chief from Texas agreed that the call was clear to work as community-relations officers. But he wonders why the 1,400 firefighters FEMA attracted to Atlanta aren't being put to better use. He also questioned why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - of which FEMA is a part - has not responded better to the disaster.
    The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.
    "They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."
    The firefighter, who has encouraged his superiors back home not to send any more volunteers for now, declined to give his name because FEMA has warned them not to talk to reporters.
    On Monday, two firefighters from South Jordan and two from Layton headed for San Antonio to help hurricane evacuees there. Four firefighters from Roy awaited their marching orders, crossing their fingers that they would get to do rescue and recovery work, rather than paperwork.
    "A lot of people are bickering because there are rumors they'll just be handing out fliers," said Roy firefighter Logan Layne, adding that his squad hopes to be in the thick of the action. "But we'll do anything. We'll do whatever they need us to do."
    While FEMA's community-relations job may be an important one - displaced hurricane victims need basic services and a variety of resources - it may be a job best suited for someone else, say firefighters assembled at the Sheraton.
    "It's a misallocation of resources. Completely," said the Texas firefighter.
    "It's just an under-utilization of very talented people," said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote, who sent a team of firefighters to Atlanta. "I was hoping once they saw the level of people . . . they would shift gears a little bit."
    Foote said his crews would be better used doing the jobs they are trained to do.
    But Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, said sending out firefighters on community relations makes sense. They already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee. They have medical training that will prove invaluable as they come across hurricane victims in the field.
    A firefighter from California said he feels ill prepared to even carry out the job FEMA has assigned him. In the field, Hurricane Katrina victims will approach him with questions about everything from insurance claims to financial assistance.
    "My only answer to them is, '1-800-621-FEMA,' " he said. "I'm not used to not being in the know."
    Roy Fire Chief Jon Ritchie said his crews would be a "little frustrated" if they were assigned to hand out phone numbers at an evacuee center in Texas rather than find and treat victims of the disaster.
    Also of concern to some of the firefighters is the cost borne by their municipalities in the wake of their absence. Cities are picking up the tab to fill the firefighters' vacancies while they work 30 days for the federal government.
    "There are all of these guys with all of this training and we're sending them out to hand out a phone number," an Oregon firefighter said. "They [the hurricane victims] are screaming for help and this day [of FEMA training] was a waste."
    Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid.
    But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.

Even Mr. Earth is Flat Sings a Different Song

September 7, 2005
Osama and Katrina
On the day after 9/11, I was in Jerusalem and was interviewed by Israeli TV. The reporter asked me, "Do you think the Bush administration is up to responding to this attack?" As best I can recall, I answered: "Absolutely. One thing I can assure you about these guys is that they know how to pull the trigger."

It was just a gut reaction that George Bush and Dick Cheney were the right guys to deal with Osama. I was not alone in that feeling, and as a result, Mr. Bush got a mandate, almost a blank check, to rule from 9/11 that he never really earned at the polls. Unfortunately, he used that mandate not simply to confront the terrorists but to take a radically uncompassionate conservative agenda - on taxes, stem cells, the environment and foreign treaties - that was going nowhere before 9/11, and drive it into a post-9/11 world. In that sense, 9/11 distorted our politics and society.

Well, if 9/11 is one bookend of the Bush administration, Katrina may be the other. If 9/11 put the wind at President Bush's back, Katrina's put the wind in his face. If the Bush-Cheney team seemed to be the right guys to deal with Osama, they seem exactly the wrong guys to deal with Katrina - and all the rot and misplaced priorities it's exposed here at home.

These are people so much better at inflicting pain than feeling it, so much better at taking things apart than putting them together, so much better at defending "intelligent design" as a theology than practicing it as a policy.

For instance, it's unavoidably obvious that we need a real policy of energy conservation. But President Bush can barely choke out the word "conservation." And can you imagine Mr. Cheney, who has already denounced conservation as a "personal virtue" irrelevant to national policy, now leading such a campaign or confronting oil companies for price gouging?

And then there are the president's standard lines: "It's not the government's money; it's your money," and, "One of the last things that we need to do to this economy is to take money out of your pocket and fuel government." Maybe Mr. Bush will now also tell us: "It's not the government's hurricane - it's your hurricane."

An administration whose tax policy has been dominated by the toweringly selfish Grover Norquist - who has been quoted as saying: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub" - doesn't have the instincts for this moment. Mr. Norquist is the only person about whom I would say this: I hope he owns property around the New Orleans levee that was never properly finished because of a lack of tax dollars. I hope his basement got flooded. And I hope that he was busy drowning government in his bathtub when the levee broke and that he had to wait for a U.S. Army helicopter to get out of town.

The Bush team has engaged in a tax giveaway since 9/11 that has had one underlying assumption: There will never be another rainy day. Just spend money. You knew that sooner or later there would be a rainy day, but Karl Rove has assumed it wouldn't happen on Mr. Bush's watch - that someone else would have to clean it up. Well, it did happen on his watch.

Besides ripping away the roofs of New Orleans, Katrina ripped away the argument that we can cut taxes, properly educate our kids, compete with India and China, succeed in Iraq, keep improving the U.S. infrastructure, and take care of a catastrophic emergency - without putting ourselves totally into the debt of Beijing.

So many of the things the Bush team has ignored or distorted under the guise of fighting Osama were exposed by Katrina: its refusal to impose a gasoline tax after 9/11, which would have begun to shift our economy much sooner to more fuel-efficient cars, helped raise money for a rainy day and eased our dependence on the world's worst regimes for energy; its refusal to develop some form of national health care to cover the 40 million uninsured; and its insistence on cutting more taxes, even when that has contributed to incomplete levees and too small an Army to deal with Katrina, Osama and Saddam at the same time.

As my Democratic entrepreneur friend Joel Hyatt once remarked, the Bush team's philosophy since 9/11 has been: "We're at war. Let's party."

Well, the party is over. If Mr. Bush learns the lessons of Katrina, he has a chance to replace his 9/11 mandate with something new and relevant. If that happens, Katrina will have destroyed New Orleans, but helped to restore America. If Mr. Bush goes back to his politics as usual, he'll be thwarted at every turn. Katrina will have destroyed a city and a presidency.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Maureen Dowd on Bush and Cheney

September 7, 2005
Haunted by Hesitation

It took a while, but the president finally figured out a response to the destruction of New Orleans.

Later this week (no point rushing things) W. is dispatching Dick Cheney to the rancid lake that was a romantic city. The vice president has at long last lumbered back from a Wyoming vacation, and, reportedly, from shopping for a $2.9 million waterfront estate in St. Michael's, a retreat in the Chesapeake Bay where Rummy has a weekend home, where "Wedding Crashers" was filmed and where rich lobbyists hunt.

Maybe Mr. Cheney is going down to New Orleans to hunt looters. Or to make sure that Halliburton's lucrative contract to rebuild the city is watertight. Or maybe, since former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana described the shattered parish as "Baghdad under water," the vice president plans to take his pal Ahmad Chalabi along for a consultation on destroying minority rights.

The water that breached the New Orleans levees and left a million people homeless and jobless has also breached the White House defenses. Reality has come flooding in. Since 9/11, the Bush administration has been remarkably successful at blowing off "the reality-based community," as it derisively calls the press.

But now, when W., Mr. Cheney, Laura, Rummy, Gen. Richard Myers, Michael Chertoff and the rest of the gang tell us everything's under control, our cities are safe, stay the course - who believes them?

This time we can actually see the bodies.

As the water recedes, more and more decaying bodies will testify to the callous and stumblebum administration response to Katrina's rout of 90,000 square miles of the South.

The Bush administration bungled the Iraq occupation, arrogantly throwing away State Department occupation plans and C.I.A. insurgency warnings. But the human toll of those mistakes has not been as viscerally evident because the White House pulled a curtain over the bodies: the president has avoided the funerals of soldiers, and the Pentagon has censored the coffins of the dead coming home and never acknowledges the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

But this time, the bodies of those who might have been saved between Monday and Friday, when the president failed to rush the necessary resources to a disaster that his own general describes as "biblical," or even send in the 82nd Airborne, are floating up in front of our eyes.

New Orleans's literary lore and tourist lure was its fascination with the dead and undead, its lavish annual Halloween party, its famous above-ground cemeteries, its love of vampires and voodoo and zombies. But now that the city is decimated, reeking with unnecessary death and destruction, the restless spirits of New Orleans will haunt the White House.

The administration's foreign policy is entirely constructed around American self-love - the idea that the U.S. is superior, that we are the model everyone looks up to, that everyone in the world wants what we have.

But when people around the world look at Iraq, they don't see freedom. They see chaos and sectarian hatred. And when they look at New Orleans, they see glaring incompetence and racial injustice, where the rich white people were saved and the poor black people were left to die hideous deaths. They see some conservatives blaming the poor for not saving themselves. So much for W.'s "culture of life."

The president won re-election because he said that the war in Iraq and the Homeland Security Department would make us safer. Hogwash.

W.'s 2004 convention was staged like "The Magnificent Seven" with the Republicans' swaggering tough guys - from Rudy Giuliani to Arnold Schwarzenegger to John McCain - riding in to save an embattled town.

These were the steely-eyed gunslingers we needed to protect us, they said, not those sissified girlie-men Democrats. But now it turns out that W. can't save the town, not even from hurricane damage that everyone has been predicting for years, much less from unpredictable terrorists.

His campaigns presented the arc of his life story as that of a man who stumbled around until he was 40, then found himself and developed a laserlike focus.

But now that the people of New Orleans need an ark, we have to question the president's arc. He's stumbling in Iraq and he's stumbling on Katrina.

Let's play the blame game: the man who benefited more than anyone in history from safety nets set up by family did not bother to provide one for those who lost their families.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company