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

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Katrina, Bush's New Orleanian Betrayal and The American Way

by Ana Maria

Like much of the country, I was glued to the television and the Internet when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The images of the New Orleans Superdome and people on roof tops. Nothing about Mississippi though. The first I really ever saw of Mississippi’s devastation was CNN’s documentary on Bay St. Louis reported by Kathleen Koch who did a fabulous job. Kathleen grew up in Bay St. Louis. Together, she and I attended high school as well as the University of Southern Mississippi.

CNN's anchor and reporter Kathleen Koch with blogger Ana Maria of A.M. in the Morning!at the Katrina 2nd Anniversary Memorial Celebration in Waveland, Miss., on August 29, 2007.
Photo by Ellis Anderson.

It took me forever to understand the difference between what happened in New Orleans and what had happened on the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines. Like most others, I didn’t understand that the hurricane itself caused the damages to my home town and the Mississippi Gulf Coast while the levee breaks were what ripped apart the city where the majority of my family have lived for well over 100 years.

The final pieces fell into place when I watched Greg Palast’s Big Easy to Big Empty. Palast is an internationally award winning investigative journalist from Southern California who works for England’s BBC. His investigation broke the news about the stolen 2000 presidential election. Since then, I’ve become personal friends with him. I trust this man’s work completely. That’s an important part of my journey. Got it?

When I saw Palast’s DVD on what happened in New Orleans, I stopped it in the middle. Palast had just exploded another rude truth all over my computer screen.

Ivor Van Heerden, Deputy Director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Center reveals who knew what and when — before, during, and after the storm — and warns that his job is in danger for telling us his story.

“FEMA knew at eleven o’clock on Monday that the levees had breached, at 2 o’clock they flew over the 17th St. Canal and took video of the breaches, by midnight on Monday the White House knew, but none of us knew.”

On the DVD, one New Orleanian lawyer in the film responded to this succinctly. “This is criminal negligence for which people go to jail.”

I stared blankly into space. I couldn’t believe what I had just learned. I didn’t want to believe it. How could I believe it? Yes, I trusted his work completely. Palast has an impeccable history of telling the rude truth to power.

This was different for me, though. This was personal. This was about what happened to my family in New Orleans and its surrounding cities and towns.

The first problem with what happened to New Orleans was a man made error in the levees’ construction. By the time I watched the DVD, I had finally understood that point. Besides, the levees weren’t all that big size-wise.

One of my favorite all time childhood memories involves playing with my cousins after we had eaten our annual Thanksgiving Feast. FYI, we started every holiday meal with pasta, salad, and a type of Italian bread made only in New Orleans. Then we moved on to the traditional eatings.

After we ate, my cousins and I would put on our play clothes—because we always attended the annual family gathering at my Grandmother’s home in our Sunday best. We’d get our pieces of cardboard, walk ½ block to the levee, and delight in the joy of sliding down the levee on the cardboard. I’ve often wanted to relive those moments, but something about no longer being a kid keeps me from doing that to my body. The point here is that while the levee seemed huge to me as a child, as an adult—particularly now in the post-Katrina era—the levee at that place in the greater New Orleans area was no more than a very small hill that provided oodles of fun for my cousins and me.

Back to the DVD.

The second problem with what happened in New Orleans was also man made, though this time the problem resided in the moral fiber of the man who sits in the White House and all those in the Bush Administration who chose not to utter a sound to Louisiana Governor Blanco, the Louisiana state emergency management people, or New Orleans Mayor Nagin or anyone outside of the Bush clan, for that matter.

Why hadn't I learned of this? Where were the news reports? I found this New York Times piece titled White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm" and published on February 10, 2006.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
Greg's work, as always, was dead on target. The New York Times continued.
But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.
While my first thought is a great big “WHY?”, my second and more overwhelming thoughts revolve around “HOW?” and “WHAT?”
  1. How could anyone deliberately and callously sit there and do nothing?
  2. What kind of failure of leadership allows any American to drown?
  3. What kind of immoral compass possesses a man to talk about loving America while deliberately keeping mum about the impending deaths of Americans who will experience a most gruesome and preventable hellacious nightmare?
At that point, no one could prevent the actual breaking of the levees. However, Bush could have worked with the state, parish (county), and local officials to evacuate everyone immediately.

Oh, that’s right, Innovative Emergency Management, the firm to whom the Bush Administration had given federal tax money to develop an evacuation plan for the city of New Orleans were experienced in financing his election campaign and inexperienced at evacuation planning.

When Palast asked the company for a copy of the evacuation plan they were to have written some two years prior, IEM apparently couldn't find it. In fact, ir seems no one could find it for months on end. In his ever witty manner, Palast explains.
Here’s the key thing about a successful emergency evacuation plan: you have to have copies of it. Lots of copies — in fire houses and in hospitals and in the hands of every first responder. Secret evacuation plans don’t work.

I know, I worked on the hurricane evacuation plan for Long Island New York, an elaborate multi-volume dossier.

So Bush did nothing, said nothing. Bush remained on vacation in Crawford, Texas. Bush’s silence on the levee breach coupled with his disingenuous comment that New Orleans had “dodged a bullet” cost us lives, livelihoods, homes, neighborhoods, communities, places of worship, etc. and so forth. Bush’s silence enabled the ambush of an entire American city.

This is unforgiveable. Simply unforgiveable.

Never one to shun a photo opportunity for something meaningful, Bush had the nerve to visit New Orleans on the 2nd anniversary. Guess Rove ordered updated photos.

My family and the families of countless others suffered greatly because George W. Bush failed to tell the State of Louisiana and New Orleans that the levees were breached and to evacuate everyone. My family and the families of countless others suffered greatly because George W. Bush and Dick Cheney handed the evacuation plans for the city of New Orleans to their campaign supporters who knew nothing about emergency planning AND who didn’t have plans that amounted to more than their Republican buddy in the Mississippi Governor’s mansion, Haley Barbour.

When Hurricane Dale was out in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Governor did a robo-call to the state’s coastal residents essentially saying “Run For Cover!

Is that the best those folks can come up with? Taking federal taxpayer money and yelling “run for cover?”

At yesterday’s memorial service, I prayed for all of us living inside and out of Katrina Land whose family and friends are living testimonials to the power of putting one foot in front of the other. I also prayed that those folks in charge of our protection, whose legal authority provides access to the best of the brains in our nation and to the financing of access to those brains. I prayed that those same folks actually remember what it is to have a conscience and to be infused with the overwhelming power of using it.

Mostly, though, I prayed that the rest of us whether we are living inside the Katrina-ravaged region or we are in elected positions that can assist in the full and vibrant recovery of this region or we are a member of the media that can shine the light of day on what is needed and how to achieve it to the benefit of all or we are simply someone who can take a part of this grand jigsaw . . . I pray that we’ll have the energy, strength, and vision to make our recovery easier and more quickly the reality we’d all prefer to live.

I prayed that one day soon, we’ll have a sunrise ceremony that comes on the heels of an all day and all night celebration of putting into place the final piece which rebirths a vibrantly alive area from New Orleans, Chalmette, and Slidell, Louisiana, through Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Pass Christian, Miss., to Bayou LeBatre, Alabama.

For that sunrise ceremony and annual sunrise ceremony of remembrance, I pray the day to come quite soon.

The folks here are simply tired of being tired, tired of feeling alone and abandoned, tired of the betrayal from the White House and federal agencies, and of course, tired of the insurance industry taking our money and ripping us off by denying our legitimate wind policy claims.

We’d all prefer to be tired because we’re celebrating living. That’s the New Orleans way. That’s the Mississippi Gulf Coast way. That’s the way in Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Pass Christian—the three tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero.

When it comes to throwing a party, living large, and celebrating the art of celebrating, we’re the experts.

We’d all prefer to be tired because we’re having so much fun celebrating our triumphs with the most deliciously decadent food for which our region is well known and dancing to one of the area’s many talented band whose music delights our hearts and our feet. Perhaps, visions of this celebration of celebrations keep my family, friends, and neighbors going. I know I think of it and become renewed with energy to keep going.

Katrina's community members to strive for a better life for ourselves and family, our community, and the next generation. We all know life’s better this way. At its core, this is the American way.

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imsmall said...


Poor people are the levees of the rich:
When trouble strikes, they are the first to suffer,
For, come disaster, they have got no niche
To make safe haven: uglier and gruffer
Upon the face of it, the world in which
They move, but there remains a glitch:

Rich people must be held accountable
Unto a higher standard; they in their
Habits acquisitive, do not do well
To disregard noblesse oblige: but where,
Here in America, does any quell
Consumerist urge erecting hell?

Pervades a sense of rich entitlement
Amongst this body, to consume and take
The resource of the world, as has been spent
In disproportion--why, for heaven´s sake,
Plunder of natural treasures never meant
For such depletion, none prevent?

The boxes upon wheels you like to drive
With their combustive engines--mansions really
Of fleeting decadence: no man alive
Ought have the right (though everyone is squealy
Expressing faux concern, invocative
Of God somehow that we survive).

How many have curtailed their use of plastic?
How many cut back on their meat, and beef
Especially--all explaining periphrastic
The reason for their needs, each one as chief
Before his brothers: cannibals are drastic,
Ecology nor yet elastic.

That which gets stretched beyond all kind of shape
May not return unto like primal form
When it is broken: now, with global rape
Of the environment, see "a perfect storm"
Portending the horizon. How escape
Doom now the human jackanape?

Upon a sinking ship, say the Titanic,
Will men vie with each other for a piece
Of meager turf upon the deck, no panic
Feeling that time grows short upon a lease
Communal held by all: all feeling manic
Attribute it to charms Satannic.

For heaven´s sake, so wars are waged
To earn the rights and revenues
From oil´s plunder: men enraged
Against each other hurl abuse
And instigate catastrophe
Not heeding signs--a litany!