This week seems sorrel. In some respects, I could imagine awaking and discovering that it has all been a dream. On the other hand, such a dream would require a great deal more creativity and embellishment then I would give myself credit for. Oh, I could dream of a catastrophic event. One that is devastating. Requiring extraordinary efforts and the whole nine yards. I just don't think I could have factored enough reality into the picture.
Reality in this case is that a major American city faced ruination in a matter of hours. The vibrant city that hosts each year a major Mardi Gras celebration became like unto a third world nation over night.
A few observations that have come into clarity by what I have been seeing:
1. Just how fragile major segments of our society are. The poor and elderly and those with major medical issues in particular. I don't doubt that there are many wealthy and even middle income families who have lost their homes, their jobs, personal possessions. Still, it seems those who had the least earthly possessions to lose, are the ones who really have felt the brunt of this devastation.
No auto, not credit card to rent a car to get out. But according to Michael Brown of FEMA, these people have to take some of the blame for not evacuating. So what, blame is perhaps the one possession they have left? Please... FEMA had demographics and had planned mock hurricane disasters for New Orleans. These people were to leave how?
2. We are the most advanced nation on the planet. Our leaders have planned for the inevitable since 9-11. They have reshaped FEMA and a gazillion other federal agencies under Homeland Security to create the biggest bureaucracy in the history of this country. All with the idea in mind that these agencies would work better together knowing what each other is doing. The President supported this reorganization. He put his own people in charge. He told us he was making it better.
So the day after Katrina the President is in Arizona doing a photo-op with seniors when the biggest issue that day was what Katrina had left behind.
Imagine if Bush had gone to Arizona the day after 9-11 to do a photo-op... I dare say the death toll from Katrina will pass 9-11. The economic impact on the nation clearly will. Still, the President chose a business-as-usual approach. FEMA, national guardsman, all legged way behind. In fact it is only now that they are really on the scene in any kind of numbers. Why? What happened to the revamped Homeland Security?
3. Our nations priorities are sadly out of place. Nearly $192 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq. A war that was a gross lie in purpose. Yet every year since 9-11 the President slashed the budget for U.S. Army Corp of Engineers projects to maintain the levies that compromised in New Orleans from the Hurricane. So in reality, this basic issue of security for New Orleans, was never high on the list of priorities.
People in New Orleans have no homes. They lack basic services like water, electricity, fuel, protection (till the national guard arrived) and food. They have lost their jobs, been separated from and in many cases lost family and friends. Their future looks pretty bleak right now. Except for being flooded, it is a picture not unlike that of the people of Baghdad after the United States invasion. We still have not rebuilt Iraq.
4. After 9-11 the government and the American people felt violated. The President said we would hunt down the people responsible and make them pay. We would not stand for this and of course we set about to avenge the attack. Certainly some response was warranted. But the government was misleading about Iraq.
So here we are today. Katrina's devastation is massive. The human toll has not yet fully been realized but the loss of life will surely pass 9-11. We were not prepared for this crisis. In spite of a staggering Homeland Security budget, lives are being lost as the hours tick by for want of relief efforts that were too little and much too late.
This time there is no enemy to point our finger at and avenge. Nothing for the President to rally around. Only the disgraceful administration of relief efforts that we all believed would have been better orchestrated.
So here I am. If I sound angry, I am. I'm angry this was not just a dream. I'm angry that the policies of this Administration have put our tax dollars into a war that was a lie and took money from badly needed areas that were more important to American lives.