Too Little, Too Late

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Forgive me for playing the blame game but I am angry. I was angry before Katrina pounded New Orleans as the media calmly reported the “touching” personal stories of families who paid up to $3,000 to flee the city. I was angry at the images of those too impoverished to be able to afford to leave the city – New Orleans’ poor, black community – as they filed into the Superdome to await their fate. I was angry yesterday when I heard that New Orleans was only just now being evacuated – a move that should have happened last week before the storm ever hit.

And I was angry last night to see the hypocrisy of President Bush flying over the area to express his shock and horror, knowing that in the last few years he and Congress have repeatedly cut federal funding for hurricane and flood protection to the city.

People may think it is inappropriate to play the blame game now when hundreds of bodies are being found dead. But it is not inappropriate. It is not inappropriate to point fingers knowing that this disaster was preventable. It is not inappropriate to point fingers knowing that the busses evacuating people from the city now could have been sent in before the hurricane hit, saving hundreds – maybe thousands – of lives. It is not inappropriate knowing that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked for $27 million this year to help pay for increased hurricane protection improvements, that Bush responded by offering only $3.9 million.

Now whatever sympathy New Orleans residents receive, its too little too late. The damage has been done. And Congress and President Bush and people all over the country will try to alleviate their guilt by offering a meager handout saying, “We’re so sorry you couldn’t afford to leave. We’re so sorry you didn’t have a car. We’re so sorry you could hire someone to drive you to higher ground.”

And what will these handouts do? What will happen to the people in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit areas of the city? These people were already among the poorest in the nation, with over 36% classified as below the poverty level. Over half the population in this ward wasn’t even in the workforce because they had given up looking for work. Now they will have lost everything they had. How will federal disaster dollars and charitable donations help them?

EDIT: I should note that what really matters in all of this is now becoming clear: the mayor has order 1,500 police to stop rescuing people and start going after looters. Because, after all, that would be the real tragedy in all of this if some Wal-Mart lost their property.

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