2005-09-09 / Columnists

The Progressive

By John Paul Culotta


Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans said these words when interviewed on radio regarding the relief efforts of FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. This vulgar expression reflects the feelings of many Americans. The relief operations after the hurricane were inadequate, to say the least.

My mother, an 80-year old Italian immigrant, had a friend who was also an immigrant lose her entire life’s work and home because of the storm. She fortunately evacuated to Texas with her children and grandchildren before the storm hit. They met other people in Texas who also immigrated from the same Sicilian village, and were willing to give them shelter. They were fortunate.

The response to the hurricane illustrates the “compassionate conservatism” practiced by the present occupant of the Presidential Palace in Washington. We are now a banana republic and our chief executive behaves similar to any despot overseas. He refuses to accept that his military excursion overseas has jeopardized our security and safety in our homeland. If our troops were deployed at the first recognition of the storm, much of the horror that occurred may have been avoided. Imagine our nation accepting aid from Cuba, Venezuela and India? India refused aid after this year’s tsunami because that nation felt it had the resources to adequately help its citizens. The richest nation in the world is now willing to accept aid from countries whose citizens are struggling to meet basic human needs. Why weren’t the poor, feeble and handicapped evacuated before the storm? China evacuated 600,000 this week before a typhoon hit.   

The aftermath of the tragedy that occurred for the entire world to view gives rise to the question as to how effective FEMA and the new Homeland Security office established after September 11th will respond to a major terrorist attack and/or attacks. It should not have been a surprise that a hurricane of category four or five strength could result in what we saw on our television screen. Scientists and engineers from the Netherlands have remarked that spending two to four billion dollars a few years ago could have spared much of the misery we have all witnessed. Dutch engineers have had success in saving their below sea level country from the damage the sea can cause. In  1927, the Mississippi Delta region had a similar storm. This part of the country was due for another storm of this ferocity.   The levees that protected New Orleans were able to withstand a category three hurricane. This would have been adequate usually but every 80-100 years a storm of Katrina’s strength is inevitable. We will now be forced to spend hundred of billions to reconstruct. Why didn’t this nation reinforce the levees so they could withstand a category 5 storm? 

President Bush and his administration need to safeguard this nation from foreign threats and thugs. This nation also has an internal threat witnessed on our TV screens of an underclass that is willing to loot and terrorize our fellow Americans when the thin veneer of civilization has disappeared. It is amazing that it would come as a surprise that the marginalized would behave in such an ugly brutal way when law enforcement breaks down. Again, why weren’t troops employed before the storm? Why weren’t the poor, sick, feeble and dying evacuated? Were there no buses or military trucks available? Only the well off and healthy were able to evacuate by themselves. Again, the vast differences of status and wealth are a sign of a banana republic.   A hospice was not evacuated until a week after the storm hit. It was evident there was a need for troops and FEMA before the storm to evacuate effectively. It is also amazing FEMA officials did not know that thousand of people were in the Super Dome and convention center until four days later. I knew this on Monday by watching CNN and officials did not know until Thursday.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I spent a happy week in New Orleans. There was great food and entertainment. The beauty of the French Quarter and Garden District and the special hospitality of the people made for an exciting visit. This city gave us Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Prima, and Harry Connick Jr.

I can only say as the mayor of that city has said, “I am Pissed.”

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