“Stuff happens,” Donald Rumsfeld famously observed while downplaying the looting that erupted in Baghdad following the US invasion. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression…” (Hmm, nothing about zero-tolerance at that time).
I think the best line of Maureen Dowd’s latest column is right at the top:
And when you combine limited government with incompetent government, lethal stuff happens.
I think words are beginning to fail a lot of us. I watched “Meet the Press” this morning, which is something I usually carefully avoid for mental health reasons. Tim Russert came on loaded for bear. (I find it kind of encouraging that so many media talking heads and administration apologists are so clearly shaken by the federal government’s display of near-complete failure and ineptitude this week.) After discussing the implications of Rehnquist’s death with NBC court analyst Pete Williams, he turned to Michael Chertoff, “director” of Homeland “Security”:
MR. RUSSERT: Now, let’s turn to Hurricane Katrina. Joining us is the man in charge of the federal response to the disaster, the director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.
Mr. Secretary, this is yesterday’s Daily News: “Shame Of A Nation.” And I want to read it to you and our viewers very carefully. It says, “As for Chertoff, if this is the best his department can do, the homeland is not very secure at all. It is absolutely outrageous that the United States of America could not send help to tens of thousands of forlorn, frightened, sick and hungry human beings at least 24 hours before it did, arguably longer than that. Who is specifically at fault for what is nothing less than a national scandal… It will never be known exactly what a day could have meant to so many unfortunates whose lives came to an end in those hopelessly tortured hours–on scorching roadsides, for lack of a swallow of water, in sweltering hospital bads, for lack of insulin. But what is already more than clear is that the nation’s disaster-preparedness mechanisms do not appear to be in the hands of officials who know how to run them.”
Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation?
Yeee-haa! Chertoff put on a masterful display of prevarication and talking-point-discipline; if you have the time to waste you can read his responses in the transcript. Russert then turned to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard:
MR. RUSSERT: Jefferson Parish President Broussard, let me start with you. You just heard the director of Homeland Security’s explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?
MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we’ve got to start with some new leadership.
It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It’s so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It’s got to be able to come in and save lives.
We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to– reconstructing FEMA.
He then rattled off three of the most mind-blowing examples of FEMA incompetence — if not outright malice — that I’ve yet heard:
MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn’t the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn’t they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?
MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, “The cavalry’s coming,” on a federal level, “The cavalry’s coming, the cavalry’s coming, the cavalry’s coming.” I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry’s still not here yet, but I’ve begun to hear the hoofs, and we’re almost a week out.
Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA–we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, “Come get the fuel right away.” When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. “FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.” Yesterday–yesterday–FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, “No one is getting near these lines.” Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America–American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.
But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she’s done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn’t foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it.
A bit later, Broussard completely broke down:
MR. BROUSSARD: …And I want to give you one last story and I’ll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?” And he said, “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.” And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President…
MR. BROUSSARD: Nobody’s coming to get us. Nobody’s coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody’s promised. They’ve had press conferences. I’m sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.
MR. RUSSERT: Just take a pause, Mr. President. While you gather yourself in your very emotional times, I understand, let me go to Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Russert never went back to Aaron Broussard, although the man appeared briefly – wiping his eyes and trying to compose himself – on a split screen with Haley Barbour.
On CNN’s web site yesterday, they engaged in a random act of reporting: comparing the “official” version of events with reports from the ground. (I just, at 5:20 p.m. PST, rechecked that link on the CNN site, and see “breaking news” that a rescue helicopter has crashed in New Orleans; no further details.) And Josh Marshall posted a scathing dissection of the lies and spin coming out of the White House right now. It begins:
It’s almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them.
It’s a longish post, but worth reading for its comprehensiveness.
Finally, I wish I could find the links to these two pictures — and if someone has them, feel free to post them in the comments section. On CBS Sunday Morning Harry Smith narrated a “feel good” segment of photos illustrating the resilience, compassion, bravery, determination, etc. of Katrina’s victims. As he uttered the word “ingenuity,” they showed a photo of a dozen or so people who had commandeered a postal van to flee the city. Just Friday, I saw a photo of those same ingenious people, hand-cuffed, face down on a highway, a police officer standing over them and another searching the truck. Zero-tolerance, you know.