Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans meltdown

Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff has a favorite talking point in his litany of excuses for the New Orleans disaster. "We've had two disasters," he says. He goes on to cite that advent of the hurricane, followed by the flooding.

That's what he has to excuse himself from leaving 25,000 people at the New Orleans convention center for five days without food & water - gee, how was he supposed to know that a hurricane striking a below sea level city would be followed by floods? What is he, a genius?

The relief effort is going just great, he goes on to say. Everyone is doing an outstanding job. He should list a third disaster - his hiring. This particular natural disaster - a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane striking New Orleans - is among the most planned-for in emergency preparedness. It is a classic scenario, easily anticipated. Chertoff says, however, that you can't fly helicopters and drive trucks in a hurricane. Wow, that's lame. The storm didn't hit the whole country. So ... they couldn't figure out an approach from the west? Is this a cartoon government or what?

Like that terrible September day four years ago, we are reminded now of the media's power. Were it not for cameras reaching the conventions center to show us bathroom sinks filled and overflowing with human waste, dead bodies in lawn chairs and lying on the ground and children too tired to cry anymore, we would not know this story first hand.We would be left with smartly dressed liars in comfortable Washington offices declaring that everything is going great.

The people actually doing the relief work are, obviously, working their tails off and performing heroically, but no one ever doubted that. On this Friday morning, there is no public official on the site of that convention center, where there is a desperate and dying population of a small town.

President Bush will "survey the damage" from his helicopter, setting foot only at the New Orleans airport to make a speech. Isn't that just what the suffering and dying need? Speeches about what a great job Chertoff is doing. He'll also be on the ground in Mississippi and Alabama where it's safer.

Before departing D.C. this morning, Bush said that relief efforts were not adequate. Do you suppose that he'd be doing that without the media's work here? And what does this tell us about how things really are going on his other little project in Iraq?

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