The City That Bush Forgot

The president could hop from one corpse to another and think hes walking on water

Though it was censored from the West Coast broadcast, you've doubtless heard Kanye West's unscripted comment during the Sept. 2 NBC Hurricane Katrina benefit: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Like others, I found that remark needlessly divisive. He should have said, "George Bush doesn't care about people."

There's a sort of "great man" who sees the big picture and thus wields the baton that orchestrates sweeping movements in human history, causes tectonic shifts in our destinies. Most are probably sociopaths. Like the criminal whose swath of destruction is incognizant of any desires or dreams other than his own, the "great man" doesn't let the aspirations and suffering of others distract him from the blinding vision of his ideology.

To put it another way: George W. Bush is a piece of shit.

The guy doesn't get that an Iraqi father's idea of freedom might differ from his, because that father's idea of freedom doesn't include his wife and daughters lying crushed in the rubble of a U.S. air strike.

Bush doesn't get that sending poorly equipped poor people to die in a poorly planned war is not a noble ambition for the world's richest nation.

Bush doesn't get why the mother in the Astrodome isn't chortling along with him when he stands at the edge of America's greatest homeland horror and reminisces about his drunk-ass days on Bourbon Street or his dreams of kicking back on Trent Lott's new FEMA-built porch. She can't see the big picture because she's distracted by details, like worrying if the hideously bloated bodies on TV could be her missing husband or son. Maybe Bush could come up with nicknames for them: "Hey, Bloatie, you're doin' a heck of a job there!"

As of last weekend, there was such a backlog of "floaters" in New Orleans that authorities estimated once a body was discovered, it would be more than three days before it was collected. On his next trip down, Bush could hop from one corpse to another and think he's walking on water.

* * *

What leader who actually cares about people—American people, whose welfare is his only job—would appoint Michael Brown to head FEMA? Brownie's sole job qualification was 11 years of Arabian horseshit, and he was asked to resign from that. Now it's come out that Brown padded his résumé, which the White House evidently never bothered to check, because, gee, who could have imagined that the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be called on to manage an emergency? Brown was called back to Washington and resigned. If Bush is true to form, Brown will soon fill a Supreme Court vacancy and receive a Medal of Freedom.

Brown had been the college roommate of Bush's previous FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh, who'd also come to the job with no experience whatever in disaster management—unless you count running Bush's 2000 campaign—and he soon ditched FEMA to make some private-sector money off the disaster in Iraq, getting an insider's first seating at the trough. Now he's a lobbyist whose job is sniffing out outsourcing opportunities in disasters such as Katrina. That's marvelous synchronicity: he helps ruin FEMA's ability to mitigate the severity of disasters, and then he gets a job where, the more severe the disaster, the more money he makes. Did we mention that he represents Halliburton, which will make a pretty penny off Katrina? These guys will kill you and charge you for your funeral.

* * *

Maybe this Friday's National Day of Prayer will help. "Oh God, please strike down more Supreme Court justices. Let the assassin's bullet find Hugo Chavez's heart. Scrape the cities of sin from the globe. And while you're at it, kill Jerry Lewis. Amen."

Poor Pat Robertson doesn't matter anymore, say right-wing pundits sane enough to be embarrassed by his recent call for the execution of Venezuelan president Chavez. But you know who thinks he matters? FEMA, whose website listed Robertson's Operation Blessing second only to the Red Cross as a recipient worthy of relief dollars—this despite the investigation that discovered $400,000 donated to Operation Blessing for Rwandan relief in 1994 was instead spent flying mining equipment to Robertson's Zairean diamond mines. Conservatives will tell you that privatization of services results in the most efficient use of money, and damn if Robertson didn't prove them right.

Of course, we in California don't even have a prayer. The Bush administration has made it clear we're on our own. Check out these interagency memos:

CALIFORNIA: We're having an energy crisis with blackouts threatening both lives and industry. Can you give us a hand?

DEPT. OF ENERGY: Upon careful consideration, we recommend you go fuck yourselves.

CALIFORNIA: Hey, our forests have turned into dry kindling. Howzabout a little help here?

FEMA: Sure, here's a match. And go fuck yourself.

Most recently, FEMA weaseled out of helping the victims of the June 1 Laguna Beach landslide, claiming it was unrelated to the winter storms that turned the hills to pudding. The agency's own experts and others concluded the slide was indeed a direct result of those storms, but those studies failed to consider crucial geographical and temporal information, namely that the disaster didn't happen in a swing state during an election year.

Look at Florida last fall, where FEMA laid on the hurricane aid with a trowel, giving out millions in Miami-Dade County even though Hurricane Frances had done its brunting elsewhere. Money earmarked for temporary housing was instead buying folks new TVs and bedroom sets, with no oversight. Unlike Katrina, FEMA did a lot of advance work on Frances, as evidenced by the scads of memos flying between Bush's re-election team, FEMA execs and Gov. Jeb Bush, who all seemed concerned that a poor response might hurt Bush at the polls. Now, when the non-election Katrina tore through Miami-Dade on its way to the Gulf, FEMA refused emergency assistance.

It's too bad that California's out of the largesse loop, since a catastrophic earthquake here was deemed one of the three likeliest disasters by FEMA back when it managed emergencies, and the other two disasters (terrorist attack in New York, hurricane in the Deep South) have now happened. Did you know we've got 1,100 miles of crumbling levees of our own? The levees protect areas in the Central Valley through which the California Aqueduct flows. A breach would flood that with saltwater, meaning something like 21 million Southern Californians would suddenly be without water, for years. If you think the looting in New Orleans was bad, wait until you see the Newport crowd fighting over that last sip of water in the Shark Club fish tank—and then the rage when they discover the fish tank is saltwater.

While Bush's Team America was busy typing "How to manage flud" on askjeeves.com, John Bolton caused a ruckus at the UN, showing up with a list of hundreds of last-minute demands for changes to the long-crafted UN reform plan. Among the demands was the jettisoning of programs to alleviate poverty or hunger. Instead, the U.S. is insisting that the UN promote free-market policies as the remedy to all problems.

And now they have FEMA's great example of how well limited government works. Come on in, the water's fine—if you're a bacterium.

* * *

One criticism and/or excuse of FEMA's feeble response is that Bush shifted its response priorities to terrorism instead of national disasters. He did, but it's no excuse. As former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen (one of several Republicans in Clinton's administration—because Clinton appointed people based on competence) noted on CNN, the response to either should have been the same. If al Qaeda had blown holes in the levees, would FEMA have been there any quicker? The fact is, no matter the disaster, we're screwed.

Having slumbered through the emergency's initial days, Bush says his administration won't rest until New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are better than ever. This from the guy who said he wouldn't rest until Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, give or take 300 days of vacation.

Have you been to New Orleans? Unless you're a total brick, the place changes you. It's America's fertile crescent, the cradle of improvisation. Give them castoff instruments, and they invent jazz. Give them table scraps, and they make gumbo. The town will nurture you; maybe it'll murder you, but it'll sure let you know you're alive, and that everyone around you is as well.

The youthful George W. Bush evidently never saw past the beads, tits and vodka vomit—otherwise he would have left New Orleans with humanity.

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