What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Four Letter Words: Bush, FEMA

Four Letter Words: Bush, FEMA

On my daily walks along my beloved Gulf Coast beach, I meet lots of folks of varying ages and backgrounds. Some smile as they pass. Others say hi then stop and chat. Still others honk their horns and wave as they pass in their cars or trucks. Though we are strangers to each other, the mutual friendliness is delightfully familiar. Good people who smile at strangers. People who say what they mean and mean what they say. It reminds me of life growing up here in the 60’s and 70’s.

The generous outpouring from those near and far remains as big hearted as ever. When it comes to federal leadership in a time of crisis, however, so much has changed since the days of Walter Cronkite.

Everywhere I go in this Katrina-ravaged locale, I hear stories from folks revealing a humbled gratitude for whatever life and home they have been able to put together since the storm. Theirs is a unassuming desire to return to a life filled with family, friends, and familiar community. In the aftermath of Katrina, surely many recalled memories of the federal government’s leadership in handling the emergency needs, clean up and rebuilding after Hurricane Camille in August 1969.

Though I was a girl of ten when Hurricane Camille ripped through the Gulf Coast, certain memories are seared into my heart and mind. I remember how quickly the National Guard, Red Cross, and the federal government came to our immediate aid. We were grateful. The goodwill engendered from their help remains even decades after the catastrophe.

In the aftermath of Katrina, we believed that the federal government would, naturally, light the path to the road home, just as it had with Camille. Again, as a young girl I recall seeing National Guardsmen all over our using chainsaws to cut through the trees that had fallen across the roads. To this day, whenever I hear a chainsaw, this is what comes to mind immediately.

Katrina involved the same communities, same towns, and often, the same families as with Camille. Katrina’s destruction was far worse than Camille’s. Surely the leaders in our federal government would step up to the plate. They would soothe our fears and demonstrate in both word and deed that our families and communities mattered.

Two days after Katrina, Bush finally cut short one of his infamous month long vacations. He flew to the White House for what we now know ended up as another of his PR stunts. This time he used an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer at the White House to deliver the empty words. On Good Morning America, Bush stated "I hope people don't play politics at this time of a natural disaster the likes of which this country has never seen."

He trotted out Birmingham native Condi Rice who assured her fellow Southerners that our families would be taken care of. FOX News, that bastion of White House propaganda, published this headline. RICE: All Foreign Aid Offers Will Be Accepted. Yet, within days, a German plane carrying Katrina aid was turned back.

The international community generously offered over $850 million in aid to ease the burden on America’s Katrina impacted families. Recently, the Washington Post reported “But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors.” That is not even five percent! Here we are some 20 months later, and now we learn that it was Bush and his Administration that had played politics with the lives of those who went through—what was that Bush said? Oh, yeah, “a natural disaster the likes of which this country has never seen."

Recent headlines read Most Katrina Aid From Overseas Went Unclaimed. NPR reported Millions Worth of Katrina Aid Forfeited by U.S. Around here FEMA is a four letter word. In many neighborhoods, so is Bush.

Bush, the man sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, is great at playing politics with the lives of those struggling to recover from and rebuild in the aftermath of Katrina. He wanted to occupy the Oval Office bad enough to steal it—twice. That took planning and execution. How’s about using some of those skills to execute an efficient and wildly successful clean up and rebuilding plan?!

Bush's actions indicate the depth to which he disdains the responsibilities of the Office of the President. This became apparent when we saw the infamous FEMA video briefing on Katrina’s impending destruction. Bush asked not a single question during the briefing. His callous disregard for every family that Katrina personally impacted remains inexcusable. Within days of Katrina’s devastation, Bush uttered the following words.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm to help you deal with the loss of property.” George W. Bush CNN transcript 3/1/06.

You gotta hand it to his speechwriters! As predictable, the false hope of Bush’s words eventually gave way to the reality of the betrayal on his watch.

FEMA epitomizes that betrayal. Around here, FEMA is a definite four letter word beginning with “F”. A close family friend whom I’ve known since I was a little girl, told me that FEMA stands for “Fix Everything, My Ass!” The lady is in her late 70’s and a staunch Republican. She, her two grown children and a great grandchild remain living in one of FEMA’s camper-sized trailers. Just this morning I drove behind a truck sporting a sticker in the back window that said the same thing. What a hoot!

Last year’s congressional hearings on FEMA’s abysmal performance provided Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor with an opportunity to publicly let FEMA Director Michael Brown how he rated Brown’s performance. ''You get an F-minus in my book.”

Calling it like he sees it. A trait I associate with New Orleanian culture. The Gulf Coast is filled with New Orleanian transplants like my own family. Taylor’s a straight shooter, which is far more than anyone can say about the Bush Administration’s mouthpieces and minions.

Taylor and his wife lost everything in Katrina, have not received a single penny of insurance money, and are personally building their new home. Margaret Taylor told me that they had gone to a relative’s home for shelter during Katrina . . . and remain there to this day. [See Sidebar: Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor—Sticks and Stones: Rebuilding Our Future]

In the middle of tremendously harsh conditions here in post-Katrina country, I find remarkable the eternal flame that exists in the residents’ sense of optimism and faith that these decent, hard-working folks exude. These are the very people surviving the two worst disasters in our nation’s history. The first is Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history. The second is the Bush White House.

As I read that Bush and his compassionless, corrupt, and crony administration turned away millions of dollars in foreign aid intended to relieve the suffering of the Katrina survivors—my family and friends and communities, I got livid. Where was all that compassion he bantered about during election time? He sure didn’t care about conserving the families and communities along the Gulf Coast and around New Orleans.

Compassionate conservative, my you-know-what!
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