More ravings from Laurie

One reader of this blog objected to my use of the word ‘e2’80’9crefugee’e2’80’9d in the last post. I did not use the less loaded term ‘e2’80’9cevacuee’e2’80’9d precisely because I wanted the emotional punch of the word. It is a shameful thing, to have tens of thousands of homeless and abandoned citizens at loose in the country, dependent on the good will of individuals and organizations because the government has failed and abandoned them.

Why else is the federal government there, but to step in and oversee a situation too big for local government? It is one area in which I am Republican rather than Democrat, in my grudging recognition that there are some things that can’e2’80’99t be left to local authority.

But when a man with clearly inadequate training is chosen to head a demanding federal program–when any number of unprepared men (and yes, a few women) are chosen to head equally demanding programs–apparently on the basis of friendship with the chief executive, the situation is ripe for disaster, and it’e2’80’99s just blown up in their faces.

Unfortunately, it’e2’80’99s also blown up in the faces of the men, women, and children caught in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

Simply put, these public office holders did not do the jobs we paid them to do. And when they failed, they were blithe and glib about the consequences, reminiscing before the cameras about wild student days and anticipating the prospect of sitting on the rebuilt porches of friends’e2’80’99 houses, while a few miles away, old people and infants were dying for lack of food and water.

Why the hell are there no angry Democrats rising out of the muck? Why can the Democratic party not manage to gather up the righteous fury of the nation and give it one clear voice? I want to see someone stand up and say, Enough. I want a clear moral vision to shine out of the filth and humiliation. I want those stinking waters of New Orleans to be used to grow a crop of politicians who care. I want to have a country I can be proud of again.

I want a Jeremiah.

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  1. vian on September 10, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    If the federal gov’t is here to step in for events too large for the states to handle, where were they pre-Katrina when the governor of LA, and mayor of New Orleans didn’t provide transportation out of the city for those without? Why did no one insist they call in the Nat’l guard as Miss, and Alabama had the foresight to do? Why was no protection provided in the dome? How is it, that with all the high tech communications available we can’t get the gov’t to see how angry we are? I have made donations, I have cried, but i am still seething and ashamed. It is not enough.

  2. Jaimee Drew on September 10, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    It is comforting to know that other people in this country are feeling as ashamed of our government as my husband and I do. I share your hope Laurie, that at least Katrina can make America reexamine itself. I do hope for a leader to emerge as well.

    We spoke of racism on Tuesday, my husband and I. We spoke of poor people, African Americans, the dispossessed of the South. We spoke of the uncaring responses of government, with the exception (at that time) of the mayor of New Orleans. We spoke of our sadness and our shame at living in a country that could callously deflect their responsibilty towards our citizens.

    We talked about the shame of living in a racist society, where all it takes is a tragedy to bring our worst attributes floating to the surface. I know that many citizens in the United States feel the same way. We are right to be ashamed, to expect so much more from our government. I am inclined to think about my government officials as my employees. If this is the case, since I do pay the wages (as do you, my tax-paying friend), I should seriously think of replacing them. Perhaps pressing criminal charges, as well. Isn’t it criminal negligence to allow another human to die when you have the power to prevent it?

    I truly believe that this should awful event allow us to take the time to examine what is truly wrong with America. Is instituting a police state and handing out a few “relief” debit cards really the best response? Can we allow our leadership to contend that everyone (FEMA for example) is doing a great job when we have thousands of hopeless homeless people waiting for assistance? When there are maggot swollen corpses lying on the sidewalks of an American city? When the only assistance the government seems to want to offer is soldiers with guns?

    What, indeed, is wrong with America?

  3. mercedo on September 10, 2005 at 4:52 pm

    First of all I am not sarcastic here, the word ‘refugee’ is used for those who are from outside the country. I watched many scenes in TV and thought that as if they were refugees from other countries. I think you used the word intrinsiclly as a writer. If you made a country within a country, this might lead to another problem. I hope the life of those who were affected will return to normal as early as possible.

  4. Meg on September 10, 2005 at 9:24 pm

    The reason there are no Democrats standing up and shouting in one voice for those of us who are outraged is because then he/she would get tagged as politicizing the situation instead of, you know, getting behind finding a solution. Which sucks, but there it is. Glad to know others are outraged from a humanitarian point of view. Laurie, this makes me like your books even better, which it probably shouldn’t, but, again, there it is.

  5. AJ on September 10, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    Just a note: “refugee” is defined in the three dictionaries I have checked so far as “someone fleeing in search of refuge,” no mention whatsoever made of such a person being or not being a citizen of my country (I wasn’t checking because of this blog…the question is popping up all over.) But I also agree with Laurie that it is the word that drives home the point: these peoples’ lives have been wiped out of existence in anything but the most basic sense of survival. The word “evacuee” implies to me that there is something to which one might return when the crisis is ended. That is not the case for most of the Gulf Coast region.

  6. Geri on September 10, 2005 at 11:51 pm

    Take a look at

    There are plenty of angry Democrats.

  7. Anonymous on September 11, 2005 at 2:59 am

    I hate when people see the poor, ill, mentally & physically disabled as “they” or “black”. This group is EVERYWHERE anyone lives! Who picks up your trash? Cleans up your office? Think about those people and that’s who was in New Orleans.
    The news reporters are the ones we should recognise as putting this human tragedy in our living rooms and making it uncomfortable for all of us to face truth. However, they did make some errors. There were national guard in the dome–around 400 among 10,000-20,000, only two spot lights in total darkness. Guess where most of the La. National Guard is? Along wth their boats? Most cities and states are woefully short of funds for natural disasters thanks to the federal gov’t mandates of laws with no funding.
    Why has there been no outcry to limit guns? How to the lawless so easily find guns and bullets?
    If the city of New Orleans had been evacuated, where would these 10 of thousands go? Yes, they are refugees, with little to nothing left. Step up where ever you live and provide assistance so we do not have refugee cities growing as little mushrooms in the middle of big cities that can not do more than make a larger ghetto.
    The president has shown this area and its people that he doesnt really care what happens. Maybe he’s reading from a script or making it up as he goes. Yes, these refugees are mostly black and poor, but there are many white among them who are just like you.
    Hopefully, all of you and millions of others will stay outraged when you go to vote!

  8. Anonymous on September 11, 2005 at 8:09 am

    Of course at this moment we all feel ashamed of our country and its government, and we have every right to do so. That said, I think focusing on their shortcomings leaves out a very important aspect of this disaster.

    I am not currently in the States so can’t speak for the situation there. However I do know that when the tsunami hit last winter, here in London there was similar outrage at governmental mismanagment of the situation. At the same time though, there was also a huge outpouring of aid – people standing in the Tube stations collecting coins, posters everywhere asking people to give, the whole deal. If this was the case for people living half way across the world, it should be all the more so for citizens of our own nations.

    And now it sounds like this is the case in the States as well. People are outraged, yes, and rightfully so. But they are also using their outrage to help those who are most important – refugees or evacuees, the term itself matters less than the reality.

    So you see, to focus on the errors of our leaders (of which there are many!) takes away from the response of our people. And if people are outraged enough to discuss this disaster as you all have, and moreover to let it affect them enough that they give to people they’ve never even met… then maybe our country isn’t in as much trouble as it seems.

    Give it time. Jeremiah’s out there.

  9. WDI on September 11, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    Angy Democrats, notably Nancy Pelosi, have been trying hard to lift their voices over the babble. The problem, as someone has pointed out, is that so few of Americans seem to want to listen to what they say. I don’t understand it, myself — were this a Clinton administration, we’d already be on impeachment #10. And Katrina’s aftermath would ensure that the next several rounds of elections went overwhelmingly to Democrats.

    My daughter and I saw two great bumperstickers on a trip to North Carolina recently. The first was the amusing “Republicans for Voldemort”. The second was the prophetic “If you’re not outraged, you haven’t been listening carefully.”

    Speaking of which . . . even those of us who listen sometimes have trouble finding out everything we really should know, thanks to the biases inherent in our mainstream media outlets. I was pleased today to see an editorial in The New York Times in which the public editor actually aplogized for the papers’ historical coverage of New Orleans. He pointed out that, had the mainstream media been doing its job all along, none of us would have been shocked to learn the backstory behind the tragedies of Katrina — stories about poverty, corruption, government neglect and ineptitude, etc. would have been regular fare. (The same should be true of media coverage of all major American cities, not just New Orleans.)

    Wow — someone in a position of authority over something actually held himself and his institution accountable and apologized. If only our government officials could do the same.

  10. PS Mitchell on September 12, 2005 at 4:18 am

    Here’s a razor sharp commentary by Lou Dobbs of CNN regrding the use of the word “refuge” Go Lou!!!

  11. KLCtheBookWorm on September 12, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Don’t hate me too much for objecting. Most of the modern context for the word has been for people having to flee their country. And most of us feel that we were failed at every level. Me, I’d rather vote for a sensible third-party canidate because neither party represents the people any more just their cronies.

    As one of our local DJs observed, we had been preached at about this killer storm for so long it had become an urban legend. It was never going to happen. Even if Nagin had ordered those buses put in use, would the transportation-less have boarded them? Some maybe, but more would have stayed behind. And they’re still bickering about the legalities. Does the mayor have the authority to declare a mandatory evacuation? Does the office have the authority to declare martial law (which wasn’t declared. A week after the looting, Gov. Blanco finally gave troops authority to return fire when fired upon.)

    State government dropped the ball big time which FEMA’s slow delay only made matters worse. You take our oil, pollute our waters, and take the National Guard troops we depend on during crisises like this to fight in another country. But when we ask for our fair share of oil revenues to rebuild the coasts that protect us, when we ask for food and water, and when we ask for protection from the psychopaths, we don’t deserve it.

    It’s not a race issue. It’s a POVERTY issue. It’s not a corruption issue. The current administration has moved toward cleaning it up, but of course that is all forgotten with the thought of giving Louisiana money to rebuild. How can we not get angry and feel like we’re being marginalizied when two of our major industries are called “pork” by ABC news? We know we have pork spending and can point out better examples when asked, but our state and her people can’t win with attitudes like that. And FEMA didn’t have all this red tape when Florida was devestated last year.

    New Orleans will be rebuilt. Nothing happened to the French Quarter, and everything else is just “suburbs.” And the nation needs our oil and for us to make gasoline and the port and river to ship everything in and out. The city won’t be the same, but hopefully we can make it better. And now all local governments should know they can’t trust the Feds to help take care of their people and lawlessness will break out the second it has a chance.

  12. PS Mitchell on September 12, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    Here’s an editorial from the New York Times entitled:

    All the President’s Friends

    September 12, 2005
    All the President’s Friends
    The lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina revealed to everyone that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which earned universal praise during the Clinton years, is a shell of its former self. The hapless Michael Brown – who is no longer overseeing relief efforts but still heads the agency – has become a symbol of cronyism.

    But what we really should be asking is whether FEMA’s decline and fall is unique, or part of a larger pattern. What other government functions have been crippled by politicization, cronyism and/or the departure of experienced professionals? How many FEMA’s are there?

    Unfortunately, it’s easy to find other agencies suffering from some version of the FEMA syndrome.

    The first example won’t surprise you: the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a key role to play in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, but which has seen a major exodus of experienced officials over the past few years. In particular, senior officials have left in protest over what they say is the Bush administration’s unwillingness to enforce environmental law.

    Yesterday The Independent, the British newspaper, published an interview about the environmental aftermath of Katrina with Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst in the agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, whom one suspects is planning to join the exodus. “The budget has been cut,” he said, “and inept political hacks have been put in key positions.” That sounds familiar, and given what we’ve learned over the last two weeks there’s no reason to doubt that characterization – or to disregard his warning of an environmental cover-up in progress.

    What about the Food and Drug Administration? Serious questions have been raised about the agency’s coziness with drug companies, and the agency’s top official in charge of women’s health issues resigned over the delay in approving Plan B, the morning-after pill, accusing the agency’s head of overruling the professional staff on political grounds.

    Then there’s the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose Republican chairman hired a consultant to identify liberal bias in its programs. The consultant apparently considered any criticism of the administration a sign of liberalism, even if it came from conservatives.

    You could say that these are all cases in which the Bush administration hasn’t worried about degrading the quality of a government agency because it doesn’t really believe in the agency’s mission. But you can’t say that about my other two examples.

    Even a conservative government needs an effective Treasury Department. Yet Treasury, which had high prestige and morale during the Clinton years, has fallen from grace.

    The public symbol of that fall is the fact that John Snow, who was obviously picked for his loyalty rather than his qualifications, is still Treasury secretary. Less obvious to the public is the hollowing out of the department’s expertise. Many experienced staff members have left since 2000, and a number of key positions are either empty or filled only on an acting basis. “There is no policy,” an economist who was leaving the department after 22 years told The Washington Post, back in 2002. “If there are no pipes, why do you need a plumber?” So the best and brightest have been leaving.

    And finally, what about the department of Homeland Security itself? FEMA was neglected, some people say, because it was folded into a large agency that was focused on terrorist threats, not natural disasters. But what, exactly, is the department doing to protect us from terrorists?

    In 2004 Reuters reported a “steady exodus” of counterterrorism officials, who believed that the war in Iraq had taken precedence over the real terrorist threat. Why, then, should we believe that Homeland Security is being well run?

    Let’s not forget that the administration’s first choice to head the department was Bernard Kerik, a crony of Rudy Giuliani. And Mr. Kerik’s nomination would have gone through if enterprising reporters hadn’t turned up problems in his background that the F.B.I. somehow missed, just as it somehow didn’t turn up the little problems in Michael Brown’s r’c3’a9sum’c3’a9. How many lesser Keriks made it into other positions?

    The point is that Katrina should serve as a wakeup call, not just about FEMA, but about the executive branch as a whole. Everything I know suggests that it’s in a sorry state – that an administration which doesn’t treat governing seriously has created two, three, many FEMA’s.


    I don’t understand the Democratic response – President Clinton is going to be on Larry King Live on Thursday, and I’m hoping he’ll have some ideas. They need an elder statesman, I think, as the Democrat’s don’t have a clear leader. Nancy Pelosi is just seen as venemous and Howard Dean as out of control. I’m hoping either President Carter or Clinton will do something.

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