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Wake of the Flood
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 02 September 2005
All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
Thinkin' about my baby and my happy home.
- Led Zeppelin, 'When the Levee Breaks'
This will come as no surprise, but columnist Molly Ivins has again nailed
it to the wall. "Government policies have real consequences in people's
lives," Ivins wrote in her Thursday column. "This is not 'just politics'
or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of
what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about
who winds up paying the price for those policies."
Try this timeline on for size. In January of 2001, George W. Bush
appointed Texas crony Joe Allbaugh to head FEMA, despite the fact that
Allbaugh had exactly zero experience in disaster management. By April of
2001, the Bush administration announced that much of FEMA's work would be
privatized and downsized. Allbaugh that month described FEMA as, "an
oversized entitlement program."
In December 2002, Allbaugh quit as head of FEMA to create a consulting
firm whose purpose was to advise and assist companies looking to do
business in occupied Iraq. He was replaced by Michael D. Brown, whose
experience in disaster management was gathered while working as an estate
planning lawyer in Colorado, and while serving as counsel for the
International Arabian Horse Association legal department. In other words,
Bush chose back-to-back FEMA heads whose collective ability to work that
position could fit inside a thimble with room to spare.
By March of 2003, FEMA was no longer a Cabinet-level position, and was
folded into the Department of Homeland Security. It's primary mission was
recast towards fighting acts of terrorism. In June of 2004, the Army
Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans was cut by
a record $71.2 million. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs
Walter Maestri said at the time, "It appears that the money has been moved
in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq,
and I suppose that's the price we pay."
And then the storm came, and the sea rose, and the levees failed. Filthy
sewage-laced water began to fill the bowl of New Orleans. Tens of
thousands of poor people who did not have the resources to flee the storm
became trapped in a slowly deteriorating city without food, water or
electricity. The entire nation has since been glued to their televisions,
watching footage of an apocalyptic human tragedy unfold before their eyes.
Anyone who has put gasoline in their car since Tuesday has come to know
what happens when the port that handles 40% of our national petroleum
distribution becomes unusable.
And the response? "Bush mugs for the cameras," says Kevin Drum of The
Washington Monthly, "cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for
Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his
vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the
unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a
flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden."
Newsweek described it this way: "For all the president's statements ahead
of the hurricane, the region seemed woefully unprepared for the flooding
of New Orleans - a catastrophe that has long been predicted by experts and
politicians alike. There seems to have been no contingency planning for a
total evacuation of the city, including the final refuges of the city's
Superdome and its hospitals. There were no supplies of food and water
ready offshore - on Navy ships for instance - in the event of such
flooding, even though government officials knew there were thousands of
people stranded inside the sweltering and powerless city."
This is it, right here, right now. This is the Bush administration in a
The decision to invade Iraq based on lies has left the federal
government's budget woefully, and I daresay deliberately, unprepared for a
disaster of this magnitude, despite the fact that decades worth of
warnings have been put forth about what would happen to New Orleans should
a storm like this hit. Louisiana National Guard soldiers and equipment,
such as high-water Humvees for example, are sitting today in Iraq while
hundreds or even thousands die because there are not enough hands to reach
out and pull them from the water. FEMA - downsized, redirected,
budget-slashed and incompetently led - has thus far failed utterly to cope
with the scope of the catastrophe.
Actions have consequences. What you see on your television today is not
some wild accident, but is a disaster that could have been averted had the
priorities of this government been more in line with the needs of the
people it pretends to serve. The city of New Orleans, home to so much of
the culture that makes America unique and beautiful, is today drowning
underneath an avalanche of polluted, diseased water. This, simply, did
not have to happen.
Remember that the next time you hear Bush talk about noble causes,
national priorities and responsibility. This has been an administration
of death, disaster, fear and woe. The whole pack of them should be run
out of Washington on a rail. Better yet, they should be air-dropped into
the center of New Orleans and made to see and smell and touch and taste
the newest disaster they have helped to create.