With just shy of four years under our collective National belts since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there are still lessons to be learned and applied as we look at the current situation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the debacle that unfolded shortly thereafter.
I'm an avid reader of Daily Kos. More information and knowledge passes through the diaries that dKos users post than I can possibly get to - but I definitely try to check the recommended diaries with regularity because they encapsulate a progressive's call to action. Over the days since the Katrina debacle unfolded, I have posted my share of stories on Daily Kos, some scoring the recommended list and others not. Here are the things I've posted there and to this blog since Katrina struck:
There have been literally thousands of diaries at Daily Kos highlighting the spectrum of issues - if you have considered it, someone has diaried it over there. If it hasn't been diaried, then open an account and write about it.
My point in bringing this all up is an interesting discussion in one of the diary's comment threads over the past two days. I wish I could remember which user had the idea so I could ascribe appropriate credit, but there's just too high a volume of comments to go back through and find it. The comment, in summary, indicated the writer's deep belief that the progressive community had to find the Katrina-equivalent to the 9/11 widows. As I'm sure we all recall, the 9/11 widows were a compelling and powerful force that almost single-handedly, through shame and pressure and testimony and lobbying, forced the 9/11 Commission into being. Those women spoke absolutely from a position of power and sympathy. The fear at Daily Kos and other sites is that, as the stranded have been evacuated, the public pressure and attention on what in God's name happened will fade. Any investigatory commissions will be watered-down and ineffectual - in essence, without a 9/11-widow-like presence, nothing will be learned or changed as a result of this tragedy.
So. The idea of a Katrina Victim presence takes on importance and power. But who should be on it?
Bob Johnson did an outstanding diary about Charmaine Neville, New Orleans resident and member of the famed musical Neville family. From Bob's diary, you can navigate to links of Charmaine Neville's videotaped account of her frightening story (click here to view it if you're on a PC and here if you're on a Mac). This is, in my opinion, required viewing for progressives who want to effect change in the wake of Katrina. She is an articulate and visible presence with a harrowing story of what really happened, and a story that can't be whitewashed. I would nominate her for Katrina-Victim status.
Another great story has emerged around Dr. Gregory S. Henderson, a New Orleans resident and doctor who has just been scathing in his criticism of the way relief and aid efforts have been (mis)managed since Katrina struck the region. The Wilmington Star-News has a nice article up about Dr. Henderson. Further, this transcript from CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 underscores his efforts and comments. I think somehow (it's a gut reaction) that it's important that any 9/11-widow-type group have a diverse public face - faces of all colors, all income levels and all backgrounds. Dr. Henderson goes a long way toward that end.
The only other person I think it would be interesting to talk to is the gentleman who, off-camera during Dick Cheney's visit to Mississippi yesterday, expressed his true feelings. "Go f--k yourself, Mr. Cheney," he said - and then again, "Go f--k yourself." If you missed this particular clip, Crooks and Liars has provided it. Click here for a Windows Media version and here for a QuickTime version. The problem is I can't find any reference as to who that individual is and he never appears on-camera before he is "escorted" away. If anyone has that information, that would be excellent.
That is all I've come up with as to actual people that I've seen in the news. I don't think that these people can be politicized because they are not politicians - they are survivors. And I, along with everyone else, am witnessing the attempt to shift blame and deflect and change the subject. We cannot allow that to happen.
There are so many things which need to be investigated in the wake of this disaster. I certainly don't need to be convinced that there is plenty of blame to go around - Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco need to be held accountable for their missteps prior to the storm hitting - but the lion's share of the debacle rests with the Federal Government. This was a disaster they knew was possible and imminent. What this says about disaster response is that we are less prepared than we were before 9/11. Imagine if this had been a terrorist attack on a moderate- to large-scale: if, knowing in advance of Katrina that a disaster loomed, the response was so utterly lacking, what kind of response can we expect to an unforecast disaster?? My God.
First and foremost on the list of things I think are critical to investigate is the role of FEMA and the harm done to FEMA by demoting it from cabinet-level independence to place it within the massive Department of Homeland Security. This will be a complicated investigation - it will be difficult to separate the question of the competence of leadership at the very top of FEMA from the question of funding and preparedness when FEMA became a (relatively) small part of a much larger whole. I caught this commentary from Jack Cafferty on CNN's The Situation Room yesterday which I found appalling:
CAFFERTY: Indeed I do, Wolf. Thanks very much.
Somewhere along the way, FEMA became a dumping for the President's political cronies with little experience in disaster relief. The Agency's first director was Joe Albaugh. He was President Bush's 2000 campaign chairman. Albaugh brought in the current failure, Michael Brown. His previous work was with Arabian horses. The number two guy, Brown's top deputy at FEMA is a fellow named Patrick Rhode. He worked for the President's 2000 election campaign. The number three guy at FEMA is Brooks Alchuler. He used to work in the White House. His job was planning Presidential trips. And FEMA's long-term recovery director is a guy named Scott Morris. He produced television and radio commercials for the Bush campaign.
The Federal agency charged with handling national emergencies is staffed at the very top by a bunch of political hacks with virtually no experience that qualifies them to respond to something like Katrina.
But I digress.
He wasn't kidding.
Further revelations have bubbled up as the dust is settling, and many important ones have been diaried over at Daily Kos:
That is just a tiny sampling of the information swirling out there and all of the balls that were dropped. I'm missing more than I highlighted - I just wanted to give a flavor.
The Republican Administration is trying to baffle us with bullshit, folks. They're throwing so much crap and so many smokescreens that we run the risk of becoming distracted and confused. A Katrina-Victims panel would speak volumes and speak them clearly with the authority of someone who has lived to tell of an ordeal. If I can get the suggestion of a few more names of people who would be suited to carry this powerful message of accountability, I will do my best to contact the news agencies and individuals and see if we can't get a face on this. A real, human face. Your help is desperately needed.