Sunday, September 04, 2005

More on NOLA, Part II

Maureen Dowd's op-ed piece in Saturday's Times is well worth reading, as is Frank Rich's piece today.

There's also an article on how Katrina has affected the NO Police Dept: at least two officers (one an aid to the Superintendent) have committed suicide; others have abandoned their posts and fled. As a former cop, I can't tell you how distressing that piece of information was. To me, it shows that the police in NO have accepted these "facts":
  • They're on their own, and nobody's going to help them
  • The system they have sworn to uphold and defend has abandoned them
  • It was time to put their own safety and the safety of their loved ones ahead of the system that has betrayed them
Now, no one goes into law enforcement for the money... all in all, cops get paid about 10% of their true worth to society (same with firefighters and EMS personnel). Nor do people enter these fields for the snazzy uniforms (generally polyester, which is hot in the summer, cold in the winter and always, but always, looks crappy). No, people go into emergency services because they want to "try to make a difference", they want to make society safer, better, more productive. Try to imagine what these cops must have experienced for them to decide to flee.

The cops in NYC on 9-11 (and also the FDNY and EMS, the Port Authority staff, and hundreds or thousands of others) stood their ground, doing what they had sworn to do. How many died in that effort? 343 firefighters, and hundreds of law enforcement officers (local, state and Federal).

Why didn't they flee?

Easy. They knew help was on the way. Thousands of volunteers -- many trained, most not -- were already heading for New York, even before the towers fell. The next day, there was a measurable Federal presence (aside from Twig with his bullhorn).

In New Orleans, though, it was different.
They were left on their own for five days, days in which Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin were begging for help. Five days in which people were dying, the city was dying... and no one came.

The disaster in NYC covered a few square blocks; in New Orleans, the entire city was under water. NYC was able to call for assistance from New Jersey, Connecticut, and the rest of the Northeast. New Orleans couldn't: the entire deep South had been clobbered (after all, New Orleans is 'the big story' but there are also Biloxi, Gulfport and countless smaller communities). The Twin Towers tragedy affected the whole world, that's true, but -- for the most part -- the emergency workers knew their loved ones were safe somewhere else. The cops and firefighters and EMS workers in New Orleans knew their loved ones were trapped, or missing... or dead.

And they knew no one cared.

Sure, the locals pitched in and helped the best they could. Even the communities virtually destroyed by Katrina tried to help each other. But where were the Feds?

FEMA was gutted under Bush's insane privatization policies, their training and mitigation mandates transferred to other parts of DHS or to the private sector. Millions of dollars in levee improvements were dropped, in favor of paying for Bush's war of choice in Iraq. A third of the National Guard troops from the affected areas -- troops that would have been available for search and rescue, security, fire fighting -- and half their equipment was halfway around the globe, defending Halliburton's right to make obscene profits.

DHS itself was concentrating exclusively on terrorism, to the exclusion of all other disasters in their purview. As security expert Bruce Schneier put it (several times), they were 'preparing for the last attack'. FEMA's own experts considered a breach of the levees to be one of the three most likely disasters facing the US... and the most costly, in terms of lives and dollars.

The Feds don't care.

Evacuation from New Orleans was tough, granted. How in hell do you move 450,000 people quickly and safely? But for the Feds to say, "we're sending 500 buses"?!? Mayor Nagin was right when he said the Feds should nationalize Greyhound and send their entire fleet. And there's a report that refugees from the Hyatt in New Orleans were moved to the head of the evacuation line at one point; yeah, I can understand the comments that 'rich whites are more important than poor blacks'. And I can understand -- and sympathize with -- rapper Kanye West's statement (on the NBC concert) that Bush "doesn't care about black people".

And where does DHS Secretary Chertoff get off claiming he "didn't know" there were 20,000 evacuees in the Superdome and 25,00 at the Convention Center? For Christ's sake, it's his job to know.

The Feds don't care.

Denny Hastert says we should bulldoze New Orleans instead of rebuilding they city.

Bush turns the worst disaster in American history into a comedy sketch: "I can't wait to sit on Trent Lott's porch".

The Feds don't care.

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