Tuesday, September 13, 2005


My mind is in a fog. I know everyone else feels the same way. It is filled with images of people on rooftops, of desperate mothers clutching babies and wading through chest deep water, of elderly folks in wheelchairs, their faces reflecting hopelessness, and bodies floating face down in murky, murderous water. It is a montage of misery, a mini-series running nightly on television and imprinting each image on the minds of those watching...first the horrendous days in the Superdome, people crammed like cattle heading for the stockyards in the sweltering heat, the long and torturous wait for help to come, the tumultous days afterward, extending to this very moment as bodies are still trapped underwater and those levee pumps grind onward.

Blame! It is bounced around like a rubber ball, with some blaming the Federal Government, others blaming the State Government, and still others blaming the Local Government. One could boil it down to a massive failure of ALL government, and even now, as the dead are collected, the Louisiana Governor is complaining that FEMA has failed to find a contracted firm to do the job, leaving the state to sign its own contract.

I didn't even know there were firms in the business of collecting bodies and I am sure it is an occupation I would not care to have, but one employee explained on CNN that all the bodies are treated with respect....which is more than they have had these past two weeks, as they floated around or were piled on doorsteps or lay spreadeagled over abandoned cars.

Somehow, this entire New Orleans debacle has exposed our government for what is has become, rather inept and very lackadaisical. The head of FEMA has been removed from the Katrina job, then resigned. FEMA used to be an independent agency and some thought it a good one, including Hillary Clinton, who objected to it being placed under the umbrella of Homeland Security. Seems she may have been right all along. President Bush has put old friends and political cronies in key positions within FEMA, and not a one of them has a thimbleful of experience in working with disasters. This has proven to be a disaster itself, as the folks in New Orleans could tell you.

It was five days before the National Guard came in great numbers to New Orleans to help in the rescue of the victims, five days of having no food, no water, no electricity, no plumbing. The Superdome was a suffering mass of miserable humanity, noise, confusion, litter, feces, illness, criminal activities and deprivation. Some say that rapes occurred within this building, one woman even claiming a child was raped. Parents were separated from their children and are still trying to reunite with them. Almost every family is searching for a relative. And the dead are still buried underwater....caught in cars, under debris, in buildings.

No horror movie could be as grisly as the scenes from New Orleans these past two weeks. And no leader of a huge, rich country could so obviously be trying to make up for his stupendous mistake. George Bush will never shoulder blame, but he will accept responsibility for the incredible stupidity of his chosen few, the people who command the various departments of his government.

He seems to rely upon past acquaintances and old loyalties. And once he has made a choice, no matter how bad it might be, he sticks by his selections with stubborn fealty. To my knowledge, Michael Brown is the only person dismissed from a key responsibility since Bush took office. Too bad it wasn't Rumsfeld! It would certainly be an improvement to say goodbye to Rumsfeld, but that probably won't happen.

The truth is, George Bush may have lost his heroic place in the history books because of his actions directly after Katrina, because he took another day of vacation, and flew off to Arizona to make a speech, and because of those five, long, unendurable and inexcusable days! He wanted to be remembered for establishing a blooming and prosperous Democratic society in Iraq, but it will be Katrina the history books will mention. And so they should.

For, the truth is, he wasn't much of a hero during Katrina. Despite warnings from the Weather Bureau, despite the fear of a Category Five (or so it was thought) Hurricane causing the old, worn levees to breach, he failed to respond. And the fact that those left stranded in New Orleans were primarily Black gave an ominous, racial tinge to the negligence, a tinge that has brightened to glaring colors.

The real hero of this catastrophe seems to be Anderson Cooper, who vigilantly stuck it out in New Orleans this past two weeks, sticking it to politicians, crying over the conditions and generally informing the world of what he was seeing. I never thought much of Anderson Cooper in the past, considering him just one of Gloria Vanderbilt's boys, born into a wealthy family and ending up with a plush job on CNN. However, I have become his devoted fan these past two weeks. We have lost Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and other steady newsmen. Anderson Cooper is a fine replacement.

Think about it. If Washington, D.C. were deluged, would the bodies of Senators float in the water for two weeks, gnawed upon by rats, hideously bloated? In every major city in the United States, there are the poor, made up of minorities, primarily Black. Must we look forward to these huge crowds of Black victims, left behind, after every disaster, be it a terrorist attack or a flood? And suppose this HAD been a terrorist attack, would gassed, horribly burnt or nuked people, suffering immeasurably, be left for five days without medical attention or other help?

There are many questions to be asked, but God only knows if they will ever be answered. In the meantime, those images are indelibly printed on our minds and our memories. American ingenuity and compassion seems to have been supplanted by bureaucratic muddling. We may pray more these days, and we won't hear the word "damn" before nine p.m. or be subjected to a bare breast during a Super Bowl game but, in other areas, we seem to accomplish much less.