Learning from history

Did anyone catch Michael Brown, director of FEMA, discussing the situation in New Orleans on this morning's news show circuit? "We had all of our rescue teams, the medical teams, pre-deployed, ready to go," he said. "The lawlessness, the crime that is occurring, did surprise us." It's something "I never thought I'd see."

And he's right. The feds are doing the best they can. I mean, in all fairness, who in Washington could have anticipated this kind of thing? OK, I'll grant that New Orleans is a large city with poorly-maintained infrastructure. Anyone who's ever been there can tell you that. And sure, it's teeming with poverty and years of pent-up desperation. No secret there either. But, in all seriousness, who can really think of an example in modern history of a city like that descending into an anarchy of pillaging, shooting and rape after being physically destroyed.

I mean, sure, there was the Baghdad thing. But that's different.


SER said...

I have to vehemently disagree. The feds are not doing the best they can, except for if you're holding them only to the very low standard that the Bush Admin now sets for achievement. What the fuck? There was no anarchy on the day of the hurricane, the day after the hurricane, even two, three days after the hurricane. It's only after a total vacuum from FEMA for DAYS that it descended into chaos. Brown's stats on what was deployed seem like bullshit to me - where were all these guardsmen and supplies? They say they were delivered only to the Superdome, but even there, everything ran out and there were nowhere near enough people to manage the situation.

I'm not excusing the people who are doing this shit (looting, crime, etc.) - it's completely odious and unforgivable - but people have been left with nothing, and that "nothing" includes a total a lack of information, for DAYS. I mean, let's try for a second to think about being stuck somewhere that's totally out of commission, where you're hot, hungry, thirsty, dirty, and surrounded by desperation, and you hear NOTHING except rumors that a bus might be coming here or there, or that the National Guardsmen are telling people to do this or that. On 9/11, TVs and Blackberries still worked. They have ZILCH in NO.

It took one day for the Berlin Airlift to get into motion after Berlin was blockaded. Here, in New Orleans, where a disaster was long expected, where 112,000 "left behind" people were always included in all simulations (that's the number who lacked transportation, acc. to the last census), we can't drop food and water to the people who are congregated in the few spots of high ground? We can't immediately mobilize the National Guard and the Army to hit the streets and prevent highly predictable looting? Maybe I'm cynical, but I can't believe anyone is surprised by looting after a major disaster - it happens all the time unless order is enforced. It's happening in Mississippi, too.

Brown also told CNN last night that FEMA didn't know people were at the Convention Center. I guess they couldn't have watched any cable channel to figure that out. Political patronage is crap - Brown should have stuck to his job of helping people avoid the estate tax.

I eagerly await what George W Bush has to say after his helicopter tour of NO today. Maybe from above he can see where the supplies are.

SER said...

Er, in rereading this, I see that perhaps bR was being ironic. Whoops! Well, I'm going back to being blinded by my rage now. If anyone needs me, I'll be yelling at passersby on Clinton St.

bR said...

Perhaps I should be a bit less subtle with my irony next time.

SER said...

Or I should be less apoplectic. Ah, well, what can I do? I hate everyone in government right now. Fucking fuckface fuckers.

FYI, the word I have to fill in in order to leave this comment (i.e., through the prevent-spammers mechanism) is "dlsex."

Brando said...

This is the kind of colassal fuck up that transcends politial affiliation. The thing that has bothered me more than anything with Bush & Co. isn't so much ideology -- you'll always have to deal with politicians you don't agree with. It's their gross incompetence. At least if you do something well, I can appreciate that. If you have beliefs I oppose and you also can't even execute that vision properly, then you are a waste of space.

On top of that, my head damn near exploded when I caught Larry King interviewing some Wal-Mart exec about the looting. The 157-year-old King actually asked, "How many Wal-Marts have been affected by this?" I almost turned into Lewis Black. "Wal-Mart! Their talking about Wal-Mart!"

Grendel said...

I think the bottom of the tepid response really does stem mostly from race. Nothing else fully explains the completeness of the indifferent, tardy response. My God, as some poster on DK pointed out, they called a special session of Congress to try and save ONE WHITE WOMAN from starvation just a few months ago. Ah, but she was brain-dead, and they could put words in her mouth. That's crucial. They're not interested in those who can talk back.

The media is kind of talking around the race thing, and even though they're surrisingly going after the leadership failures during this dismal tragedy, not many are pointing out directly that nearly everyone left helpless in NO is black. Does anyone REALLY think they would leave thousands and thousands of white people pent up in arenas to slog desperately amid corpses without food or water for DAYS? Does anyone think Hastert would question whether Phoenix or Indianapolis or Des Moines should be rebuilt?

And I'll go further and say it's because they are flat out afraid of black people, it's because they just can't help but naturally want them to go away, it's because of guilt and ignorance and the hideous habits of history laced with a fundamental inability to empathise across the racial divide on the part of the elected political leadership.

But it seems some levee in the American consciousness has broken now, and this outpouring of outrage and frustration at such gross incompetence bodes very ill for the current leadership. It's deeply shameful and pathetic that it takes the destruction of a major city to achieve this.

Yet I have underestimated this remarkable administration before, and they may well manage to smooth this over, too, if they can get the media back on board.

the plunge said...

I must say I think the media has and will continue to be onboard. As I said in a BAF post recently, until today (and still today) the CNN coverage has been laughably incomplete, completely purged of any seriously upsetting imagery (how many meaningless shots of helicopters do we have to see???), and even though the occasional commentator or shirtless hic can be heard to complain about the gov't's non-response, I've seen almost no serious, sustained criticism of it (the kind that's everywhere on the net). I spent a half hour this morning watching a series of mid-level officials give updates on which boat was where, which levee was still months from being repaired, and which National Guard details would be arriving soon to restore order. Plus that really insidious looped footage of Bush shaking hands with and kissing the refugees. It's another reminder that these major media outlets are not NEWS organs. What they put out is not NEWS, but some kind of neo-corporate hybrid of advertising and political press release.

I don't need to see footage of Marine One landing or Mi-8s flying in circles around the Superdome--that's not news. I want the press to serve the function it was created for--to analyze and expose governmental inadequacies.

So what I'm kind of saying is that this backlash--this outrage we're seeing is happening despite the mainstream press, not because of it.

And if it lasts, ditto.

Grendel said...

Well, with no cable, I only get my TV news when I'm in bars. Which granted is all the time, but I'm usually not paying attention. I happened to be watching the CNN "Situation Room" when the news broke about the Hastert comment, and ol' Blitzy said he gots some splainin' to do. Otherwise I get all my news from NPR and the Web, so my perspective is skewed.

Let's follow this, though. If the Web has taken over the function of news, and news has taken over the function of advertising and public relations, what have advertising and public relations taken over the function of? Entertainment?

Grendel said...

Anyone else noticed that the government is is not allowing the Red Cross to enter New Orleans?

My favorite part:

So I asked: "The people starving and dying at the convention center yesterday couldn't get Red Cross food and water because they would be drawn to the food at the convention center, where they were, and not want to be evacuated from the convention center where no evacuations were going on or planned and all the while they are dying.

chauncey swan said...

i feel like such a douche. i just gave money to the red cross. good to know there's no chance it will get to any of the people i'm watching starve to death on television.

possum said...

I feel disconneted from this stuff, as I have to fight to get near a computer to get any news or go sit in my car to hear the radio. However, it's early enough on a Saturday the kids are still in bed, away from the library, and I come in to get caught up, and get fired up, and there's a fucking Red Cross ad asking for money on the side bar here. Jesus. Aside from the RC, what can we do for real? Anyone know where we can send money, supplies, where they'll actually get into NO and do some good?

SER said...

It sucks that the Red Cross can't get in right now, but they ARE running the shelters in Houston and elsewhere. I think it's still the right place to send it. Just don't send any money to Operation Blessing, which is on FEMA's approved list but which is Pat "Assassinate!" Robertson's organization.

Grendel said...

Here is a nice page of different organizations and what they're doing and links to help.

I, too, gave to the Red Cross, and now I feel kind of silly. I guess when an area is a "disaster area" and under DHS control no other organizations can come in till the DHS says to. The Salvation Army is also not being allowed in. I'm sure people have already died because of this policy. But SER is right, the ARC is helping people once they leave NOLA. There doesn't seem to be any way of getting food and water to the people still trapped in NOLA!

Here is an update on the Red Cross situation.

segall said...

I would beg to differ with the assessment of CNN's coverage as being poor. While I haven't seen much since Thursday what I did see then were several reporters at the Convention Center and Superdome seriously losing their shit over the absence of any sort of relief and Wolf Blitzer basically asking everyone he interviewed, "So what you're trying to say is that the government has fucked up royally, right?" They immediately called bullshit on Bush for talking more about gas consumption than relief efforts during his press conference. One of their reporters at Charity Hospital came on the air and said, "I can get here so I have no idea why the National Guard can't."

And I don't particularly like CNN. And I thought they gave way too much time to the sickening photo-op in Biloxi yesterday (if that doesn't empirically prove the underlying racial phobia throughout the catastrophe then nothing does). But to me anyway, a sense of disgust seemed to be seeping through.

As it does in a lot of places you wouldn't necessarily expect. The friggin Washington Times mocked the president for vacationing while this happened.

You can't hunt down hurricanes where they live.

SER said...

I agree that the hurricane coverage has actually been pretty good, at least in terms of its having less of the usual pandering to whatever reality the Bush Admin is trying to "talking-points" out into the world. The reason, it seems to me, is quite simple: unlike with most news, there's the photo that very clearly tells one story, while the Administration is spouting out something so crazily different that even Wolf and Paula Zahn and Robert Siegel on NPR are like, "Pardon me? Are you nuts?" Even Joe Scarborough criticized them.

Also, I think the press gets more pissed when the Administration is contradicting its own reporters instead of just Democrats. Sad, but true.

BTW, did anyone hear Anderson Cooper's interview with Trent Lott last night? As if there were any doubt, Lott is a douchebag. He said people shouldn't be complaining, that it was inappropriate and political. Fuck you, fucking fuckface fucker.

TLB said...

Anderson Cooper also ripped Sen. Maru Landrieu a new one on the air Wed or Thurs when she started thanking Fristy and Reid and Chimpy and other politicians for their support, yadda yadda yadda. He stopped her with this huge sense of outrage in his voice, saying how hollow it sounded, how self-serving, for politicians to be thanking each other when people are dehydrated and starving and dirty and no one was doing anything about it. I was like, fist in the air, man! Bout fucking time!

But then there was Chimpy sucking face with brown people like he actually cares and then I had to turn off the TV. It went on for hours, seemed like. Gah!

bihari said...

I worked with a relief team in Honduras after the hurricane in '95, and we got to TEGUCIGALPA faster than FEMA's gotten into New Orleans. Six days from when the hurricane hit I was up in the boonie mountain highlands in Honduras, WITH supplies. So how hard can it be to get water to a major city in the middle of the US?

Grendel said...

It's just gets worse and worse.

Is FEMA intentionally trying to make more people die? The more I read, the more that seems possible! The very least thing that should happen is firing this incredible Brown fuckhead.

the plunge said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the plunge said...

After having seen the video clips of maverick reporters on Crooks and Liars, I stand partially corrected about the pusillanimity of the network news coverage. (I recommend all of those clips, btw)

However, those were just a couple of instances, and not only were they unscripted, but at least one of them was clearly unwanted and unexpected. The reporters on the ground seem to be the only ones delivering the real news. The great majority of the segments are still fluff--interviews with government robots, repetitive, feel-good human interest crap, and filler video of copters dropping bags of cement into the levees with no apparent effect.

MSF said...

corbin's comment link doesn't seem to be working, but i went to the main page of the site and found the governor of LA's letter to bush, dated august 28 and anticipating damage and requesting federal assistance pursuant to the appropriate statutes (i.e., the ones that would allow her to get federal help in w/o turning the state over to the federal govt, which is apparently what bush wanted to do before he'd give her any help--part of the reason for the delay). interesting.


Grendel said...

dunkeys asked that I post this link and credit the Sports Guy's Intern (or something)... it's a prett good show, I must say.