Thursday, September 1

[Completely oblivious?]

I know Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, has an enormously stressful job, but today he argued with NPR's Robert Siegel about reports that thousands of people are still stranded at the convention center with no food, no water, no law enforcement, nothing, despite having been told by officials that they should go there to be taken care of. With shit and piss everywhere and two dead bodies already pushed in a corner, draped in blankets, people have waited there for more than a day for assistance. There have been reports of a 10-year-old who was raped there as well.

Yet Chertoff cautioned Siegel that he should take care not to spread rumor and innuendo, since Chertoff's underlings themselves had reported no such situation at the convention center. Siegel (I'm paraphrasing) said something to the effect of, "But we have reporters out right now there telling us there are 2,000 people living like animals, and these reporters have covered other hurricanes, natural disasters, wars, and refugee camps, and they say this is unlike anything they've ever seen before." Chertoff said he wasn't in a position to argue, but that he'd heard no such thing and was focusing on the Superdome situation instead.

After the interview, Chertoff's people called NPR back to say they had indeed confirmed the reports at the convention center, and that they were working to get supplies out there.

This is not a partisan attack. I don't care who's in the White House right now; the federal response has been lackluster, feeble, embarrassing, and tragic. And this very situation is one that was pinpointed several years ago as one of the top three disaster scenerios the nation should be prepared for, since it would be crippling in more ways than one.

How completely vulnerable we've been all along, despite all the money and heartache we've poured into the notion that we're doing our best to protect our nation and our people in times of not just human aggression, but of natural crises as well.

CNN's Jack Cafferty is dead on:

"I gotta tell you something, we got five or six hundred letters before the show actually went on the air, and no one - no one - is saying the government is doing a good job in handling one of the most atrocious and embarrassing and far-reaching and calamatous things that has come along in this country in my lifetime. I'm 62. I remember the riots in Watts, I remember the earthquake in San Francisco, I remember a lot of things. I have never, ever, seen anything as bungled and as poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can't sandwiches be dropped to those people in the Superdome. What is going on? This is Thursday! This storm happened 5 days ago. This is a disgrace. And don't think the world isn't watching. This is the government that the taxpayers are paying for, and it's fallen right flat on its face as far as I can see, in the way it's handled this thing."

Update: It's 5:04 and I just saw pictures on the wire of a military helicopter dropping food and water at the convention center.

Update at I2:59 a.m. on Sept. 2: I really meant to mention earlier that Chertoff, at the beginning of his press conference during the afternoon, mispronounced Katrina as "Kat-ah-rina," which made me wonder if he had ever even heard of it before he was handed his prepared statements.

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