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Laying the bricks of blame

By Lady Liberty
web posted September 19, 2005

Whether it's advisable or not, there was really never any doubt that the city of New Orleans would be rebuilt. When it is, the experience of Hurricane Katrina will doubtless also ensure that the levees surrounding those areas below sea level are improved to withstand stronger storms and higher water.

Along with the clean-up and the plans for restoring and rebuilding those parts of the city that were destroyed by wind or water, many in officialdom are also preoccupied with what the Bush administration calls "the blame game." Some are calling for investigations; others are skipping right to the punishment phase for those they believe responsible for the devastation (or at least for the failure to adequately mitigate it).

I've decided that the best way to handle both building and blame is to combine the two into one neat, efficient, and eminently suitable package. Here's my idea: We build a wall around New Orleans to keep out the water — and then we put certain people behind it and lock the gates to keep them out of the rest of the country.

In no particular order, here are those I believe deserve to be sequestered for the rest of their lives and why:

Ray NaginNew Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who failed on so many levels that it's tempting to suggest he actually be made into a part of the wall rather than merely locked up behind it!

First and foremost, Nagin failed to have an adequate evacuation plan in place. He oversees the city and its emergency management teams, thus the buck stops with him. Mayor Nagin — as well as officials at other levels — were well aware of the havoc a sizeable storm could wreak on New Orleans. (Critics now allege that even those plans that were in place weren't followed by the mayor.) Later, when there was still time to evacuate those who'd been unable to leave earlier, Nagin had it within his means to transport thousands by using school buses. He declined to do so, asking that more comfortable Greyhounds be provided instead. The school buses stayed parked where they were eventually rendered unusable by the rising flood waters.

Meanwhile, Nagin got on national television and shouted to all who would listen that the federal "cavalry" was slow to arrive. He should have checked in his own back yard before accusing anybody else of failure to do their jobs: the New Orleans police force endured rampant desertion by its officers. Adding insult to injury for those volunteers and law enforcement from other areas who worked so tirelessly, Nagin then asked that the police be given Las Vegas vacations at FEMA expense (FEMA declined; Nagin promptly said the city would pay for the trips, and he was backed up by his police superintendent).

Nagin's shortcomings were more than underscored by...

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, whose indecisiveness alone cost any number of lives.

While Mayor Nagin was busy pointing his blame game finger at President Bush and FEMA, Governor Blanco was busy actually causing or exacerbating some of the worst problems plaguing the city of New Orleans. The Red Cross was poised to enter the city with a convoy to the Superdome (where thousands were later the victims of extraordinarily unhygienic conditions and a lack of food and water), but the state's Department of Homeland Security refused them admittance. (Ironically, the supplies were blocked because DHS was afraid people wouldn't be as anxious to leave if their needs were met while Mayor Nagin was busy ensuring that there was no way for them to do so.)

Mayor Nagin later moved his finger to point directly at Governor Blanco after it was made clear that the president had already offered immediate aid, but the governor wanted "24 hours to make a decision." In fact, at least some federal resources were ready to go even before the hurricane struck. But there's a legal requirement (which prohibits the federal government from simply steamrolling over a state's authority — a novel idea, that) that the governor call and ask for help. Blanco didn't. Mayor Nagin's much lambasted "cavalry" was, in fact, ready to ride; but in the absence of permission to deploy, it was stymied.

With or without Blanco's blessing, questionable (at best) action was being taken by...

Edwin Compass IIINew Orleans Police Superintendent P. Edwin Compass III, whose blatant disregard for the Constitution or even humane behavior is appalling.

Forget any temptation to suggest Compass be an integral part of the wall: I'm actually suggesting it. Among other things, Compass was personally — either directly or indirectly — responsible for such atrocities as the shooting of pets in front of their owners if those owners refused to evacuate because of their loyalty to their animals (as an aside, I'm one of the people who would not, for any price or reason, desert my pets — they go with me, or I stay with them, period).

Compass also issued orders to confiscate firearms from citizens in direct defiance of the Second Amendment and the Louisiana State Constitution (where exceptions for emergencies are not made), rendering them helpless in the face of those not so easily coerced into giving up their weapons. In a New York Times article, Compass is quoted as saying that, "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons." I've personally seen video footage of door-to-door weapons searches and handcuffed citizens (ABC News) and an elderly woman being tackled to the floor after obeying a request by the police to show them her gun — and which she was handling at the time in a perfectly safe and non-threatening manner (Fox News).

After all of this, if we can't cement Compass into the wall we're building around New Orleans, can we at least send him to Las Vegas with the rest of the police force? Hopefully, he can spend his time there wondering how best to exact discipline on...

New Orleans Police Department officers who deserted their posts in the time of their city's greatest need.

Yes, many were worried about their own families and homes — but they signed on to do a job made even more important in emergencies like this one, and they failed to live up to their end of the contract thus causing added burdens to the families and homes of those they were sworn to protect. For those officers who stayed on the job, I have nothing but sympathy and praise with a couple of notable exceptions: Those who shot beloved pets and those who participated in the confiscation of firearms deserve no better than to be caged behind tall walls with...

Looters, snipers, and other criminal elements

While it's tough to argue against the "liberation" of food and water in what turned out to be siege circumstances, can anyone explain to me the legitimacy of stealing televisions in a city which is now — and which is likely to continue to be for some time — electrical power?

One of the most horrifying reports to come out of the beleaguered city of New Orleans involved shots fired at rescue workers or reconstruction experts. Those snipers who took potshots at helicopters, who prevented or delayed hospital evacuations by firing on those engaged in the process, and who ended up in a gun battle with police after firing at Army Corps of Engineer workers are subhuman. If the police (or National Guard) were given shoot-to-kill orders, then it's those snipers that should be at the top of the list for a bullet.

Some reports on CNN are claiming that there were "mutilated bodies" found in the Convention Center (several photos were actually shown on-air), and that there were rapes, attempted rapes, assaults, and other crimes committed in the Convention Center and the Superdome.Once identified, those people who committed these crimes should be prevented from preying on anybody but each other ever again.

The blame in these instances is obvious and deserved, but there are always those who will try to place blame via stupidity or political expedience, like...

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who blames President Bush and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

Kennedy apparently thinks that Bush and Barbour, together or separately, are God. After all, it's their fault Hurricane Katrina existed in the first place! In actuality, Kennedy blames the pair for failing to support the Kyoto Protocol thus failing to mitigate global warming which, in his opinion, caused the hurricane in the first place. He also, believe it or not, suggests that a memo from Barbour that was critical of the Kyoto Protocol may have caused the hurricane to turn toward Mississippi at the last minute. And speaking of God and causes, let's not forget about...

The far right fundamentalist Christian contingent that figures New Orleans got pretty much what it deserved.

Several anti-gay groups are crowing about the fact that a regularly scheduled homosexual event was just days away when Katrina hit; others suggest that the city's decadence brought down the wrath of God. These people are apparently not believers in biblical Christianity. If they were, they'd recall that God said he'd spare an entire city for the sake of a single righteous man — and surely there were more than a few innocents who died or who are suffering thanks to Katrina! They'd also remember that Christians are exhorted not to pass judgment.

If ever there was a place for judgment — and a place it was most seriously lacking — it's in the persons of...

Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown, whose claimed lack of knowledge and subsequent action (and inaction) will likely be the focus of the blame game for some time to come.

Although some aspects of federal government was poised to action (the military, for one), the primary agency responsible to deal with such disasters — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — wasn't. Both FEMA Chief Michael Brown and DHS head Michael Chertoff claimed they had no idea that there were people in desperate straits at the New Orleans Convention Center despite extensive television coverage of their plight. Isn't it Chertoff's job to know what's going on? If he can't figure out a slow moving storm and a relatively slow moving flood, what on earth could we expect from him in the event of a surprise WMD attack on US soil?

Lack of communication and an unclear chain of command were serious issues; so, as it turns out, was Brown's utter unqualification for his position. Although Brown did admit that he'd underestimated the impact of Katrina, his response after the fact was also seriously lacking. It later came to light that Brown knew at least 36 hours ahead of time that Katrina was going to be bad and with storm surges that would present significant danger to the levees and which would result in serious flooding, yet it quite literally took days for his agency to do anything about the damage which — as expected — did result. Brown has since been relieved of oversight of the Katrina recovery effort; the Coast Guard Vice Admiral now in charge is said to have hit the ground running and things are now actually getting done.

Certainly, there are many things that need doing in New Orleans. One of those things, however, is not the race baiting of...

Rev. Jesse Jackson, for whom — yet again — everything revolves around race.

Jackson has been strongly critical of Governor Blanco (who is a white woman) and George W. Bush (who is a white man), but he has defended Mayor Nagin (a black man who, ironically, has been criticized by his own black constituents as being too "corporate"). Jackson says the levees aren't a local, but a federal matter (why should people in California, who need to take earthquake precautions, contribute to a city in Louisiana whose residents need to take flood precautions?). He also says that evacuation isn't a local, but a state matter, and that Nagin's decision not to use buses was determined because he had nowhere to send the buses (that apparently didn't cross Nagin's mind when he demanded Greyhounds instead). And when refugees do have a place to go, Jackson says it's unacceptable if it's "too far away."

Speaking of refugees, Jackson has also demanded that the word not be used because it's "racist" (sadly, a number of media outlets almost immediately complied). In his own words, Jackson says that the word "refugee" suggests those who are "subhumans or criminals." Personally, I can't imagine that refugees from Afghanistan or those portions of the world affected by the tsunami last winter would be particularly appreciative of being called "subhuman," but apparently such obvious bigotry is okay coming from the Rev. Jackson

The Rev. Jackson has made a career out of blaming everybody who's not black for the woes of anybody who is. But in the New Orleans blame game...

There's more than enough blame to go around.

As we reflect on the sad anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it's impossible not to also recall that 9/11 was supposed to teach us how best to respond to large-scale emergencies. We were supposed to learn about improved communications and quickened response. Studies were conducted to streamline chains of command and to set various advance plans into being. And yet looking back at 9/11 and then at New Orleans today, it seems there were some important lessons we missed all together, and which might have rendered much of the other improvements less crucial.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was everything in New York that Mayor Ray Nagin is not in New Orleans. He was decisive. He never whined or screamed for help, but was publicly and humbly grateful for it when it came. He wept at funerals and spoke eloquently at press conferences, yet he never blamed anyone but those who had actually executed the attack.

New York police and fire fighters were at least as overwhelmed and exhausted as those in New Orleans. Yet far from deserting, they volunteered for more duty. Some of them died in the immediate aftermath of the attack; all of them were heroic; none of them gave up. New Yorkers were shellshocked, but resolute. They didn't immediately bewail that there wasn't federal assistance on hand. Instead, they stood tall and grieved even as they resolved to recover and rebuild, with or without the rest of the country.

Katrina was an act of nature rather than one of terror, but she was devastating to all directly affected by her. Her assault of a metropolitan area in the south, however, bore dramatically different results in the people who endured her than did the attacks on New York City. In fact, it's the more rural Mississippi residents — who had terrible damages and who bore the brunt of the hurricane's fury — who have turned out to have something in common with their northern neighbors.

As some in New Orleans were descending into the very worst that humankind can be, neighbors in Mississippi were already helping each other in the clean-up process and quietly planning to rebuild. Maybe now that New Orleans has somewhere closer to look than New York, those still in need of the knowledge can finally learn the most important lessons of all. While government has its duties, it's not government that will rescue us in the end. It's personal responsibility, hand in hand with humanity, that will always see us through.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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