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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Crystal Balls 

Tom Engelhardt (of TomDispatch) links to Mike Davis's eerie description of the evacuation of New Orleans:
Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean's daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the "large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods" who wanted to evacuate but couldn't.

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.
Why "eerie"? Because Davis was writing in the late summer of 2004, describing what might have happened if the full force of Hurricane Ivan had slammed into New Orleans. Keep that in mind when you watch the likes of Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff and FEMA chief Michael Brown -- two apes who should burn in hell if only for the sin of cashing their paychecks -- on the talk-show circuit explaining that thousands of Americans died because, well, "no Katrina scenario existed," and no one -- meaning no one with fewer than two brain cells to rub together -- could possibly have predicted that one major catastrophe (a hurricane) would be followed by another major catastrophe (a flood), and worse yet the governor of Louisiana did not declare a state of emergency soon enough for the feds to intervene in a timely fashion (although in truth she did, on Friday, August 26, and the President acknowledged her request on Saturday, August 27).

Want more eerie? Engelhardt himself points out a number of downright eerie similarities between the President's conduct of the Iraq war and his handling of the Katrina crisis:
New Orleans is not the only toxic sludge pool in sight. Let's not forget the toxic sludge pool of Bush administration policy which came so clearly into view as Katrina ripped the scrim off our society, revealing an Iraqi-style reality here at home. Unlike conquered and occupied Iraq, the strip-mining of this country in recent years has taken place largely out of sight. While Baghdad was turned into some kind of dead zone of insecurity, lack of electricity, lack of gas, lack of jobs, lack of just about everything a human being in a modern city has come to expect, American cities -- until last week -- stood seemingly untouched in what was still proudly called "the world's last superpower." But just out of sight, the coring, gutting, and dismantling of the civilian governmental support system of the United States, that famed "safety net," was well underway. Bush administration proponents and conservative ideologues had long talked about "starving the beast"; but, until Katrina hit, it remained for many Americans at best a kind of political figure of speech . . . .

Think of our last two years in Iraq, which has left the world's most powerful military running on baling wire and duct tape, as a kind of coming attractions for Katrina . . . .

It's now notorious that the State Department did copious planning for a post-invasion, occupied Iraq, all of which was ignored by the Pentagon and Bush administration neocons when the country was taken. In New Orleans, it's already practically notorious that endless planning, disaster war-gaming, and the like were done for how to deal with a future "Atlantis scenario," none of which was attended to as Katrina bore down on the southeastern coast.

It's no less notorious that, from the moment before the invasion of Iraq when General Eric Shinseki told a congressional committee that "several hundred thousand troops" would minimally be needed to successfully occupy Iraq and was more or less laughed out of Washington, Donald Rumsfeld's new, lean, mean military has desperately lacked boots on the ground (hence those Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards off in Iraq). Significant numbers of National Guard only made it to New Orleans on the fifth and sixth days after Katrina struck and regular military boots-on-the-ground have been few and far between. No Pentagon help was pre-positioned for Katrina and, typically enough, the Navy hospital ship Comfort, scheduled to help, had not left Baltimore harbor by Friday morning for its many day voyage to the Gulf.

The inability (or unwillingness) to deploy occupying American troops to stem a wave of looting that left the complete administrative, security, and even cultural infrastructure of Baghdad destroyed is now nearly legendary, as is Donald Rumsfeld's response to the looting at the time. ("Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here." To which he added, on the issue of the wholesale looting of Baghdad, "Stuff happens") . . . .

And don't even get me started on comparisons to Bush administration behavior from the moment, also in Crawford in August 2001, that the President and his advisors ignored the infamous CIA daily intelligence briefing on Osama bin Laden ("Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."), delivered at a length and with a simplicity that even George Bush should have been able to absorb. Speaking of déjà vu all over again, his recent behavior re: Katrina echoed strangely his 9/11 behavior. After all, on 9/11, he first sat paralyzed in a classroom in Florida, then boarded Air Force One and headed not for Washington but (gulp…) for Louisiana. It was an act of panic if not cowardice that was quickly covered over when he finally did make it to Washington and later New York City, talking tough and launching his war against Evil.
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