Sep 052005

Haven’t said much lately, because there’s not much going on here.

Or rather, there’s plenty going on, but it all seems kind of trivial considering what’s happening down in New Orleans. I go through my little daily grind of chores and activities, and even the most unpleasantly mundane crap is an event to appreciate. The most irksome problem I run across is still something to be thankful for. I don’t even consider that I have problems these days. All I have are inconveniences.

One of my online friends has compiled a list of charities that are organizing relief efforts for victims of Katrina. If you’ve been looking for ways to help, look no further—there are plenty of choices right there. In all likelihood there are plenty of opportunities in your own area; my kid’s school organized a collection of necessities (and a rented truck to send them down in), and our local Harris Teeter had bar-coded coupons that enabled shoppers to conveniently donate five dollars to the Red Cross. Every local news channel appears to have some kind of fundraiser going on. There’s no shortage of people who want to help; all of our international neighbors are offering their assistance (even Fidel Castro is setting aside the Cuban/U.S. feud and offering help).

It appears what we’re really short on is leadership. We have waves and waves of people, money, and supplies ready to go, but we don’t appear to have anyone in charge directing things. FEMA director Michael Brown protested on Thursday that “the federal government had just heard about [the people in the superdome] today”—five days after the fact. How this is possible is anyone’s guess, when the plight of the evacuees in the superdome has been reported on every major news channel in the U.S., not to mention international news. How is it that people in Dubai knew there were refugees in the superdome and our own director of FEMA did not?

The USS Bataan has been off the coast of New Orleans ever since Katrina went through, but no one has incorporated its medical facilities, food and water, or other resources into the relief efforts:

The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore.

The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents.

But now the Bataan’s hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty. A good share of its 1,200 sailors could also go ashore to help with the relief effort, but they haven’t been asked. The Bataan has been in the stricken region the longest of any military unit, but federal authorities have yet to fully utilize the ship.

Meanwhile, our Commander-in-Chief is busily getting his picture taken in sets made up to look like disaster relief stations, which are then torn down after he leaves.

It puts me in mind of the suffering people in South Africa, and the vast amounts of humanitarian aid being sent to them that they never see because it gets sucked up by corrupt or inept government. It’s not like the disaster was unexpected. FEMA itself warned of exactly such a catastrophe in 2001. FEMA protests that they predicted the hurricane, but not the levee failure, yet in 2004 FEMA began denying Louisiana’s funding requests that were slated to build and maintain the levee system. Conducting that war in Iraq is expensive, people, and that money had to come from somewhere, right?

So FEMA knew it was going to happen, and yet apparently they did not work up scenarios or strategies for dealing with them. The government knew it was going to happen, and yet they elected to cut funding for the disaster prevention system. And after the predicted disaster happened, and the predictable damage resulted, all the people who should have been scrambling to take charge and do something were evidently too busy with their photo ops to turn on the news and learn what the rest of the world already knew about the situation. I would say I have lost confidence in our country’s leadership, but frankly I didn’t have any.

Meanwhile, the refugees are finally being evacuated. Some may be coming to your neighborhood, which will give you an opportunity to help out more directly.

Also, the USPS has established temporary locations to distribute Social Security checks for hurricane victims whose normal location is now gone or underwater. If you know folks who need their social security checks, pass the info along. They’ve also suspended service to some areas, so don’t expect to send or receive mail to those areas any time soon.

And I think it’ll be a long time before I feel like I have real problems.

 Posted by at 10:26 am

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