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The Battle of New Orleans:

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Week of September 5, 2005


            It would be almost frivolous to write of anything but Hurricane Katrina.  For once it seems I am in agreement with most major news organizations: Cindy Sheehan is finally off the front pages of both papers I take and even the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist is below the fold. 

            That said, it is a blessing my deadline is not a minute earlier. I am only livid today, down from seething yesterday and flat-out apoplectic the day before.  My question is still “Don’t those people ever quit?” but today I can see “those people” are not America; they are just a rancid little slice, grandstanding opportunists who survey the corpses of New Orleans and see a soapbox.    

            I’ll get to them, but first a few words about real Americans.  People like Charlie, a friend of mine who is a cook and former emergency medical technician, seeking a sabbatical to volunteer at a Red Cross relief center in Texas.  Folks like Scott and Carrie, a twenty-something couple in my church who are en route to Mississippi to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse.  And people like the millions who have opened their hearts and wallets so wide that donations are exceeding those for Southeast Asia tsunami relief and September 11 victims at the same points after those tragedies.

            Less productive citizens are engaged in the time-honored tradition of covering their own fannies, though I separate them from the true ghouls.  People like New Orleans’ mayor, who railed about the slow federal response yet did not direct the use of the city’s busses for evacuation efforts, an action specifically authorized by Louisiana law.  Instead, hundreds of buses sit flooded and thousands of people were unnecessarily stranded.  The feds might have arrived quicker but the buses were already there.

            The New Orleans police force has had over 200 resignations since Katrina according to the New York Times, out of a force of 1,500.  Contrast that with New York police and firefighters on September 11, who selflessly ran into buildings that were about to collapse, and one might reasonably question what kind of standard the mayor set for his public safety employees.  Public safety starts with qualified cops, not patronage hires.

            Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has complained about the National Guard’s response – which, in the state of Louisiana, she herself commands.  As to help from other states, Associated Press says they were ready.  The Michigan National Guard, for instance, started preparing immediately but wasn’t contacted by Ms. Blanco for several days.  “We could have had people on the road Tuesday (after the levees broke),” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Cutler. “We have to wait and respond to their need.” 

            My greatest contempt, however, is reserved for the political looters who are busy scavenging the misery of others for political gain.  Like Jesse Jackson, who told CBS News race was “at least a factor” in what he considers a slow response by the Bush administration.  And Rep. Elijah Cummings, D- Md., who told CNN “I’m not sure” if racism is responsible for disaster response issues, then coyly added “All I know is that a number of the faces that I saw were African-American,” which should be no surprise since New Orleans’ population is two-thirds African American. 

            Then there is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is in a classless class by himself:  Kennedy claimed on HuffingtonPost.com that Mississippi governor Haley Barbour is personally responsible for the hurricane itself due to his opposition the Kyoto environmental treaty. 

            In a disaster of this unimaginable scope, failures are inevitable at all levels.  There will be plenty of blame to go around when there’s time for it but in a less decent country this hateful nonsense might have brought volunteers and donations to a halt.  Fortunately, a nation is greater than the sum of its politicians.  






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© 2005 Brent Morrison