Thursday, September 01, 2005

Where's the cavalry?

Since Katrina came ashore on Monday and devastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States, I’ve been following the events closely. Americans (and human beings, for that matter) are able to process that which is personal and close to home, much better than things far away. I won’t spend time here analyzing why that is so, I just want it duly noted.

It defies logic, socialization and personal experience why, in America, fellow citizens are clearly seen on our television screens, in dire need, waving white flags, sending up smoke signals and crying out for help—and help seems to be somewhere else, or in most cases, arriving too late or in proportions I would deem inadequate for the needs at hand.

A major American city, one where many Americans have walked its streets and experienced its wonders, is being beamed into our living rooms and we’re asking ourselves, “what is going on?” Dead bodies are lying in the streets and no one is coming to claim them; rioting and lawlessness is breaking out; police and fire, as well as rescue personnel seem to be present in such small numbers, as to be almost of no help. Meanwhile, I want to state clearly and unequivocally, this is not driven by partisan politics. As I’ve written before, I am a registered Independent and have little use for either of the two major parties we currently have. However, when the current administration, with the blessing of my tax dollars, consistently and brazenly puts me and my fellow Americans in harm’s way, you can be sure that I’m going to say, and yes, do something to change things.

In just another example of the failed leadership at the top of our power pyramid, the disaster south of us indicates the precarious nature of our current democracy. With our president unwilling to make a personal visit, he flew over and viewed the devastation at a safe distance of 2,500 feet. Clearly, this man lacks the most basic elements of human compassion. With the greatest disaster facing our country in the last 100 years, certainly, the scope of carnage and human misery warrants an in-person visit. I don’t care if it’s nothing more than to lend some moral support, this always-on-vacation, boy-sent-to-do-a-man’s job of a president has once again shown himself woefully inadequate and unworthy of the office. His press conference yesterday was one of the worst displays of leadership I’ve ever seen. While most of us have been following the events as they’ve unfolded, he appeared in his usual Rip Van Winkle fashion, as if he’d just been awoken from a lengthy slumber.

Then, you begin to read reports like this one, which indicates to me that his administration has systematically been shifting resources from the domestic sphere, to his pet project, the war on terrah’. Here's a piece written back in May, presciently envisioning the possibility of what could happen to New Orleans if a storm like Katrina hit the area. Does anyone in our current administration do anything other than run around and campaign any more? In the aftermath of 9-11, we are still inadequately prepared on the home front in the area of emergency preparedness.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time putting up links, but if anyone cares, a little bit of research will reveal that FEMA budgets, and other funding that supports necessary infrastructure necessary to protect tax-paying Americans, has been swept away under the leadership of our miserable failure of a president.

Here’s what the New York Times has had to say about George Bush. The Times, which hasn't exactly been unkind to our fearless leader, in an Op Ed titled, Waiting For a Leader, wrote, “George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.

While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.”

I’m waiting to see when "President Perpetual Vacation" will leave Washington, DC and head to the site of what appears to be a scene from a B-grade movie from the Cold War era. I’m betting it won’t be until after the Labor Day weekend, and I’m confident it could be much longer than that.

The time has come for Americans to wake from their slumber. Today, it’s the people of New Orleans experiencing heartbreak and devastation; tomorrow it could be you and I!

Here's a photo essay/montage that sums up Bush's approach to leadership.

Addendum: In the category of giving-credit-where-credit-is-due, here at least is one politician who is trying to address issues and concerns. And if anyone thinks that the crisis in the Gulf Coast doesn't affect them, you'll be reminded every time you drive into your local fillling station and wait in line for your $3.00++ gasoline.


weasel said...

I may have been first, but you are more eloquent. Hats off to you, sir.

Jim said...

I just got done listening to NPR and then, CNN's Anderson Cooper. For the first time for as long as I can remember, the media seems to have rediscovered journalism.

Both Robert Segal in his hard questioning and even grilling of Homeland Security Chief Chertoff and Cooper's telling Sen. Mary Landreux that he was sick of hearing politicians patting themselves on the back, are providing the kind of honest reporting that has been lacking for too long.

Eloquent? I don't know--I do know I'm angry; we live in America and seeing fellow citizens suffering needlessly because an administration has pissed away the goodwill that it had and embroiled us in a land halfway across the globe, so we no longer can care for our own--something's got to change.

weasel said...

You and I were listening/watching the same things and I agree: Cooper tore a strip of Mary Landrieux, and chap on NPR was blistering to Michael Chertoff. I think Chertoff pulling the Bush Adminstration ruse of pooh poohing the press reports is what set Segal off- my favorite line in that interview was something like "These aren't rumors Mr. Secretary, these are reports by hardened War Correspondents". And when Cooper blasted Landrieux for being part of a circle of self-congratulatory politicians while rats ate dead bodies in Waveland, MS I was so taken aback at hearing a reporter snarl in the British manner at politician I let out an involuntary hoot. I hope they keep it up.