Stupid, Stupid Poor

I want an administration that won’t hire a jackass to run FEMA:

(CNN) — The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates.

Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands.

“Unfortunately, that’s going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings,” Brown told CNN.

“I don’t make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans,” he said…

Michael Brown, meet Cherie Priest:

New Orleans and Biloxi are not rich cities. They are poor southern cities disproportionately filled with poor southern people — people who may not have reliable transportation, people who live hand-to-mouth, people who have nowhere else to go, even if they had the means to get there.

And the evacuation was little more than a vague order to get the hell out — under your own power and at your own expense. If you have, at your immediate disposal, reliable transportation, money for gas, and either distant family OR money for shelter, then this isn’t a big deal. Of course you leave. You pack up everything you can and you head for higher ground. But it is somewhat less easy to do if you are lacking any one of these things, AND you have been informed that what little earthly lot you may claim is about to be destroyed. Do you hang on and try to save what you can? Do you let it go and return to less than nothing?…

If every single person in New Orleans had a spare $300 and a car, most of them could have run. Now turn on the TV again and look at how many stayed.

This afternoon I had a conversation with a friend of mine in California who wondered why the hell so many people stayed in New Orleans after the evacuation order, and implicit in this was the idea that if you stay when you’re told to go, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up dead. I pointed out that a lot of the people who stayed were poor, a lot of them didn’t have cars or anywhere to go, and neither the city nor the state was lining up transportation to take them out of the city. Greyhound had rather notoriously closed shop on Saturday, so even if they wanted to get out and had the money for a bus ticket, surprise! Most people who stayed didn’t stay for the lark of being able to say they weathered the storm. They stayed because they really didn’t have much other choice.

Does the director of FEMA honestly think that most of the people who stayed whould have chosen to stay had they better options? If one is unable to leave, by whatever combination of poverty, age or infirmity applies, and the government isn’t there to help you leave, how much responsibility should that person bear for being in the path of a goddamned hurricane? And what the holy living crap is the director of FEMA doing, wagging his finger at these people? It’s not like FEMA was in a rush to move its ass anywhere, either. I knew two days before Katrina hit where that storm was going: a little government department called NOAA told me. Seems to me FEMA might have been able to get the memo too. And, you know, maybe packed some snacks and a couple cases of bottled water. Just in case someone needed them five days ago.

Oh, but, don’t think Director Brown is blaming anyone:

Asked later on CNN how he could blame the victims, many of whom could not flee the storm because they had no transportation or were too frail to evacuate on their own, Brown said he was not blaming anyone.

“Now is not the time to be blaming,” Brown said. “Now is the time to recognize that whether they chose to evacuate or chose not to evacuate, we have to help them.”

We don’t blame them. It’s just that they need to share some responsibility. They should have figured that being poor and carless was a bad move from the start. But what the hell, we’ll help them anyway.

Here’s a passage for you from a New Orleans Times-Picayune story, about a woman from New Orleans’ 9th Ward, which I am led to understand is one of the poorest in the city:

Lucrece Phillips’ sleepless nights are filled with the images of dead babies and women, and young and old men with tattered T-shirts or graying temples, all of whom she saw floating along the streets of the Lower 9th Ward.

The deaths of many of her neighbors who chose to brave the hurricane from behind the walls of their Painter Street homes shook tears from Phillips’ bloodshot eyes Tuesday, as a harrowing tale of death and survival tumbled from her lips.

“The rescuers in the boats that picked us up had to push the bodies back with sticks,” Phillips said sobbing. “And there was this little baby. She looked so perfect and so beautiful. I just wanted to scoop her up and breathe life back into her little lungs. She wasn’t bloated or anything, just perfect.”

I don’t want to blame that baby. But she bears some responsibility.

New Orleans

Christ. I have nothing to add to the chorus of voices out there discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, except to yet again wish that I lived in a country whose top administrators weren’t so malignantly incompetent. If I actually told you what I thought about the President saying that “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees” on national television when FEMA had it as one of the top three worst things that could happen to the US all the way back in 2001, the Secret Service would be required to come to my door in order to investgate me. Suffice to say that my longtime hedge of suggesting that George W. Bush is only the most incompetent president of the last 80 years is no longer in effect. As it stands, only James Buchanan now guards the way between George Bush and the black abyss. Bush’s appalling statement wasn’t just another example of the man’s personal obliviousness, it’s an encapsulation of his administration’s entire ethic: It doesn’t know anything it doesn’t want to know anything about.

My heart is sore that New Orleans has been literally wiped off the map, but what enrages me is that the reason it’s been wiped off the map is not Hurricane Katrina (which, you may recall, it actually survived, thanks to Katrina’s last-minute jig to the east) but because of a conscious decision by the federal government — originating with the current administration’s budget proposal — not to fully fund the programs that would have improved the levees that held the water back.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that even improved and fortified levees would have failed, faced with the punishment even a deflected Katrina heaped upon them. But it’s absolutely certain that not improving them has had disastrous consequences. The areas where the money diverted from the levees has gone (the New Orleans Times-Picayune noted that “the federal government began reducing Corps of Engineers appropriations in 2001, as more money was diverted to homeland security, the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq”) have not exactly been shining examples of administrative competence, either. “Penny wise and pound foolish” has been an operating maxim for this administration from the start.

No doubt the adminstration will do what it always does when confronted with its own incompetence: Attempt to change the subject, question the motives of those who question them, and work to conceal the proof of their incompetence. I doubt it will work. This is an American city that’s sunk beneath the water, and this time the administration can’t keep the press from showing pictures of our American dead.

No, damn it, it’s not about them being Republican. A competent Republican adminstration would be like ice cream on a summer day compared to these people. There’s nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about making sure one of America’s major cities — and our major port — doesn’t get erased under the water of a nearby lake. You’re not suddenly paying over $3 for a gallon of gas (when you can find it) because George Bush is a nominal Republican. You’re paying that much because he’s completely goddamned useless, and he’s dragged the government down to his sorry level.

(Having said that, when I hear that both Dennis Hastert and Donald Rumsfeld have expressed doubts about the utility of rebuilding New Orleans, you have to wonder if being Republican in today’s world means intentionally signing up for brain damage. Seems that port down there isn’t just used by the folks in New Orleans. It could be that not having it around might cause trouble. If one of my Republican readers (or leaders) would like to assure me that they’d prefer not to leave New Orleans as a rotting abscess at the end of the Mississippi River, I sure would appreciate it.)

New Orleans is a physical embodiment of something I’ve thought for a very long time: That it’s going to take years to repair the all the totally unnecessary damage to our country that this adminstration has seen fit to wreak upon it. The good news is that more people seem to be waking up to that. The bad news is it took the destruction of New Orleans to bring it home.

(Incidentally: The American Red Cross. Donate. I did.)

Subterranean Magazine Submissions Reminder

A quick reminder to everyone: In one month I open to accept submissions to Subterranean Magazine’s Spring 2006 issue, with the theme “Big Honkin’ Science Fiction Cliches.” All the submission requirements and details are here, and mere words cannot express how strongly I suggest you read that entry and follow its dictates (also read through the comments, in which I answer additional questions — and if you have any new questions, leave them in that comment thread as well).

Please note that the submission period for the issue runs from October 1, 2005 to November 1, 2005. Submissions and queries submitted before 12:00am October 1, 2005 will be deleted unread. Submissions and queries submitted after 11:59:59pm November 1, 2005 will be deleted unread (all times Eastern US). If you think I’m kidding about this, fine, go ahead, get your submission deleted. See if I care.

Let me also address the theme of the issue, which is “SF cliches.” Let me be very clear that what I don’t want to see are stories that take science fiction cliches and use them in the very manner that made them cliches in the first place. What I very much do want to see are stories that take science fiction cliches and use them in highly original, incredibly memorable and utterly expectation-confounding ways. You know you can do it.

I also rather strenuously suggest you check out this entry, about how and why I reject submissions. Yes, I know it won’t apply to you. Nevertheless, you might read it in order to share it with someone else.

I’m really excited that this is coming up so soon — I’m looking forward to seeing submissions!

Rare By The Way Plug

This week’s Weekend Assignment at By The Way is something I think more than AOLers might want to get involved in: I’m asking people to write messages to victims of Katrina and then post a message with them and the picture. The entry is here, and for the folks who don’t have an AOL/AIM account, I’ve crossposted to my LiveJournal account here.