Mary Pitt: Plenty Of Time
Plenty Of Time
by Mary Pitt
We are adjured by the Bush administration to abandon the "blame game" and concentrate on the relocation and rebuilding of New Orleans. It's over. Nothing to see here. Move on. In a sense, they are right. There is no longer any urgency. Those who are homeless and jobless will continue to survive in makeshift shelters and, eventually, be dispersed all over the country to other homes and other jobs; the dead will continue to float or simply to rot in the sun; the buildings of the once-majestic and mystical city will continue to wait for the bulldozers; and the sea will continue to wash away the now-unprotected coastline. Soon New Orleans will be but a memory of a city of commerce and industry, of huge tankers from foreign shores, of genteel hospitality and of rowdy celebrations of Mardi Gras.
The time for urgency was after the storm hit and before the levee broke. It was not that this was an unexpected occasion. The Army Corps of Engineers had been warning for years that the old levees were simply rotten and needed to be replaced. A little over a billion dollars would have protected one of the major cities in the United States. However, the money was "needed" elsewhere. There were the promised tax cuts for the rich, those who put up the bucks to get Bush into power and who would cut him off at the knees if he were to break the promises he made to them as cavalierly as he broke his promises of "compassionate conservatism" to the rest of us. Warnings of increasingly severe hurricanes due to global warming had been brushed off as being merely "junk science", when the fact was that the elimination of the pollution responsible for the condition would place a financial burden of the multi-national corporations.
The people of this nation watched helplessly as he diverted money from the infrastructure to the tax cuts and then taxed the national debt to the breaking point with over a billion dollars a week for his ill-advised conquest of Saddam's Iraq. As he reduced funding for every social program that would have protected the poor and contributed to their health and well-being, attempted to sink Social Security, and is in the process of tossing raw meat to the insurance companies with his Medicare Prescription Plan, he continues to insist that the poor little rich people should be able to leave their personal millions to their heirs tax-free! The poor man had worked so hard at all these projects that he simply had to get away for a month-long vacation. Even this was marred by the tent city down the road where people were asking why he is sending their sons, husbands, and brothers to their deaths in a war based on lies. He was, himself, but a refugee as he had to accept speaking engagements and personal appearances to escape their mournful presence.
Vice-President Cheney was also on vacation, resting from the ordeal of whatever it was that he had been doing and so, obviously were the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of FEMA. Sceretary Chertoff stated Saturday that he did not learn until Friday morning that the levee had broken the previous Tuesday! Director Brown has been busy "training" volunteers to travel to New Orleans to "help" with whatever. The Navy hospital ship that had come in behind the hurricane was laying by off the coast, waiting for the order from the President to come in and provide assistance, but the President was "too busy" at the time and the word never came. Soldiers at a nearby base could be seen playing volleyball from the few high points in the city, but there was no authorization for them to come over and help the marooned people to find their way to the hell-hole known as the Super-Dome.
The people in the "emergency shelters" found absolutely no preparation had been made for them, having to go out and forage for food and water which was firmly locked in stores and shops by the owners when they evacuated. There was no medical care and the sick and injured lay on their miserable mats or sat in chairs and quietly died, remaining there for days because nobody bothered to move them. Nearby, women were giving birth to their babies, with no water to clean them up and no place suitable to dispose of the afterbirth. Some sat outside in the sun to escape the stench of the rotting corpses and the overfowing toilets and watched the bloated bodies of their neighbors as they floated by. And the people kept coming! They swam, they walked and pushed plastic cartons before them, bringing even more sick and injured, they were hauled in by the boatload and deposited on the crowded apron to add their own filth to that which was already there. Anyone with a television set anywhere in the country was able to view their misery but we were told that nobody could reach them.
Nobody, that is, but the press! We could see that terrible situation because it was in our living rooms courtesy of the brave souls from CNN, from MSNBC, and the networks, who walked through the bedlam with their cameramen behind and documented the horror so that we could understand just how serious it had become. The fire trucks were all under water, the police were working day and night, suffering from exhaustion and infections from the contaminated water. We were told that, when FEMA cut the lines to power communcations from the city, the police chief ordered them re-connected and posted an armed guard to protect their only access to the outside. The first National Guard to arrive set up outside the city and prevented any supplies of food and water from being brought in and turned back the Red Cross contingent from entering, telling them that it was not "safe".
Much was made of the fact that there was "looting" and that a few criminals were running wild, "doing their thing", further victimizing the people who had already suffered so greatly. Those who became so desperate that they wanted to "take their chances" on getting out of the city alive were forced back into the Super-Dome by National Guard for the interminable wait for the buses that would take them to who-knows -where, separated from everything and everyone familiar and unable to learn the fate of loved ones and neighbors. Now, they are in more comfortable quarters in stadia all over the country, waiting for someone to offer them a strange home and a new job, but there's no hurry. According to the President's mother, they are accustomed to "roughing it" and it must seem like a Scout camp-out. They have no realization that there is no more home, there is no more New Orleans and, for the foreseeable future, their fate depends on "the kindness of strangers".
There is no hurry now. We can take our time in determining who to blame for what can only be described as a "major cluster-fuck", to appoint commissions to study "the problem" and to avert any possible blame from the President or his adminstration of cronies and financial supporters. During the time when speed was necessary, everyone in responsibility must have been on vacation, going golfing, or sitting by the pool. They surely never picked up a newspaper or turned on the television set. When Mr. Chertoff stated on Saturday that he didn't even know the levee had broken until Friday morning, (after three days of horror), it bore testimony to the fact that our entire federal government was asleep at the switch. The President and his appointed big-wigs stood around and slapped each other on their backs for doing a "good job", one would have thought that they had just won a war or something. It was a "Mission Accomplished" moment that fell almost as flat as the first one did. Only a die-hard, brain-washed Republican could have been impressed. The rest of us simply bowed our heads, in prayer....... or in shame.
Yes, Lord, now there is plenty of time!