First of all, the XML community way to help with Katrina (thanks, Alan).
So Katrina, which we fully anticipated, which smacked the Gulf Coast with much less force than it could have, which worked its devastation in a slow series of stages rather than one furious blow, still kicked our ever loving asses. We panic and spend billions of dollars on homeland security because we're afraid that some punk terrorist will blow up a test tube of Strontium 90 in a paper bag of C4? When we diverted this country's entire emergency management ledger over to terrorism prevention, all while we were busy cutting taxes and borrowing hundreds of billions from the very Asians we speak of in 21st century "yellow peril" terms, how did our most highly placed thinkers miss the simple fact that a natural disaster can inflict a hell of a lot more damage than human terrorists?
We want to despoil the environment in Anwar, Alaska for a modest mess of crude, when we haven't even taken common sense precautions to deal with the effect of natural disaster on the Gulf Coast refinery complex that is a couple of orders of magnitude more important to energy supply than Anwar will ever be.
We're finding that we don't have enough resources to deal with the above problem at the same time we try to contain what could end up being a tertiary disaster in public health. Dead bodies float and loll, bloated, maturating, and mixed rudely in with the wretched living as if to mock their will to live.
We're seeing how a natural disaster, sentimentally an event that should bring people together, underscores the disparity between the races in much of this country. The geography and demographics of this disaster means that it is mostly a scourge of dark skinned people, and it is very hard, even for someone (like me) who is not very sensitive to racial matters not to see in the spasmodic official response a case of lesser concern about what happens to dark skinned people.
We're passing laws against small business petrol stations proprietors for "price gouging" despite the fact that stations throughout the region are out of gasoline, and station owners do not know how steep replacement prices will be (fuel futures are soaring, mind you), nor even how long it will be before they get can be re-stocked. Our energy policy has compounded long-term price pressures with a sharp, immediate scarcity, and we somehow prefer to use small businessmen as scapegoats for the inevitable spike in prices.
As I post this they are badly botching the relief effort to move tens of thousands of refugees from the Superdome (New Orleans) to the Astrodome (Houston), and the Astrodome is apparently turning into as much of a dirty, diseased and dangerous camp as the Superdome was.
And speaking of the Superdome environs, there was a horrible exchange yesterday on NPR between anchor Robert Siegel and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. First Siegel confronted Chertoff about thousands of people stranded at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center (NOCC), 8-10 blocks from the Superdome. Chertoff at first petulantly tried to brush this off as rumor-mongering. Siegel pointed out that these were details from reporters in the field, and Chertoff pretty much made a throw-up-the-hands response. Then reporter John Burnett came on the air and offered his first-hand description of the situation at the NOCC. You just have to hear the ghastly account yourself. "2000 people living like animals". No food, water or any provisions whatsoever, no security, and no one having even stopped by to tell them when to expect relief. It seems this is because no one even knew they existed except for reporters, despite the fact that they had been thronged there for three days. This isn't a handful of folks clustered on a flyover. It's a couple of thousand refugees stranded within blocks of the Superdome, which had been a similarly squalid scene, but on a greater scale until the evacuations started yesterday.
Chertoff's spokesperson contacted NPR later on, to admit that he had confirmed the NOCC situation, and that they are working tirelessly to address the full humanitarian disaster. The funny thing is that early on in the Siegel/Chertoff exchange the secretary had said rather piquantly that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has plans in place for every conceivable disaster. You could have bloody fooled me. I repeat: Katrina was a good ways from the worst case scenario of a hurricane hitting New Orleans.
We have botched the search and rescue. We have botched public health. We have botched security. We have botched management of the economic effects. Our leaders are mewling about commentators "politicizing" the situation while they continue to botch matters for hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens who have already lost everything and don't even know when they will be afforded the basic necessities of life.
Most of the executive branch of the U.S., starting with the president, truly this week deserves to have their heads dunked into the fouled waters of the Pontchartrain, before they are relieved of duty for the grossest possible mismanagement. It's too bad that it's only criminal activity that is grounds for impeachment. Bush this morning calls the response to the disaster "unacceptable". Quick. Someone get that man a mirror while he is still in this moment of lucidity.
I don't know whether to ascribe to left wing agitprop the tales of Condi Rice shopping in Manhattan and practicing tennis with Monica Seles while the Bush cabinet purports to be on an emergency footing, but at this point it wouldn't surprise me the merest bit.
I mean, someone call up the Last Poets, because this is true madness.
And please listen to Michael Rys:
Wikipedia says that report claim up to 20,000 at the Convention Center, rather than the 2,000 estimated by Burnett.