In an effort to dispel the conclusion reached by many of us that the government has neither the will nor the ability to protect the public, the Bush administration will no doubt go into a huddle this week and come back to us with its version of the story of the apparent failure of Homeland Security to perform its function during the New Orleans debacle. They will blame their paralysis and the disgusting spectacle that followed from it not on criminal neglect but on the threat posed by armed looters, some of whom took pot shots at rescue helicopters.
The American people are unlikely to have sympathy for such characters. How dare these sociopaths (all half dozen of them) prevent our good rescuers from rushing assistance to hundreds of thousands of desperate flood victims? Surely we can understand why prior to anybody being evacuated or given anything to drink it was necessary to amass and send in Iraq-trained guardsmen with loaded M-16s and orders to shoot to kill anybody caught raping or rampaging or trying to survive by filching food or water or Kimbies from abandoned and waterlogged convenience stores. Such evildoers will loom large in the administration's retelling of the story, enhanced by the president's mastery of the fallacy of the excluded middle.
But our weeklong televised exposure to uninterpreted reality will be difficult for the president to spin into something exculpatory. He rejected the universally accepted science on global warming that contributes to the increased occurrence of category 5 storms, he ignored the proven inhibiting effect of coastal wetlands in slowing storm surges by allowing developers to acquire millions of acres of protective ecology, he pulled funding for repair and improvements of New Orleans' sea levees, he sent a third of Louisiana's National Guard personnel and equipment to his other debacle in Iraq, he chopped FEMA funding by 44% in June, after appointing as its chief a totally inappropriate schlub whose prior experience consists of legal work for an Arabian horse farm. He remained at poolside in Crawford for the first two or three days of the disaster, finishing up the fourth week of his latest vacation. Then for the next couple of days he did absolutely nothing that had any visible effect while tens of thousands of desperate flood victims watched one another die waiting for buses that nobody bothered to send in. Finally, when the level of agony and frustration reached predictable levels (the comparison to Baghdad is unavoidable) so that people from the Mayor's office on down had begun going berserk, he dropped in for a stupid photo op (sans plastic turkey) and promised to send in the military to blow away the looters and lawbreakers as though he were dealing with an insurgency instead of a humanitarian crisis. So that is where the matter stands this morning: American troops charging into a stricken and largely peaceful American city to threaten their own countrymen with lethal force for the crime of trying to survive and the temerity to take offense at being left to die in a basin of sewage.
In the name of "restoring order" Bush has taken us across an important line into a worrisome future. The level of surliness is bound to increase as gas prices ratchet permanently upward and the blessings of liberty, safety and plenty come unravelled one after another. The quaint notion of free elections has joined that of human rights in the curio drawer of our republic, and the only order left to us could soon be that imposed by government soldiers.
Dark prognostications notwithstanding, it has been another unlovely peek at the chronic racist sickness of American society and the vacuous arrogance of this appalling government. Sort of an expository bookend to our sex life at Abu Ghraib. Recovering our dignity and restoring the respect of the world (which also watched every excruciating moment of it) will no doubt be more difficult than restoring New Orleans. The Big Easy was once a real city, but American dignity is a fast vanishing fiction.
Did I say American troops? The streets of New Orleans are today crawling with Blackwater Security Guards, armed to the teeth and beyond all civic authority. They have orders to deal with criminals, as they had authority in Iraq to deal with insurgents. Many of us have blithely disregarded the trigger happy behavior of private mercenaries in Iraq, and reports that the people they shoot are described after the fact as "insurgents." It is, after all, foreigners who are getting killed on behalf of our freedom, so why should we worry about it?.
"Security contractors" is a euphemism for well trained, highly paid, highly motivated, bald-headed gunslingers for hire. They are accountable only to their employers (Kellogg Brown & Root, Halliburton, Exxon, whoever...) and they are licensed to kill. In this case they are deputized to shoot American "criminals" on American streets and grab cameras from American reporters so that the number of American bodies being recovered from the flood can remain ambiguous. They are (my theory) there to to get us used to the idea of unofficial robo-cops taking charge.
Excuse me, Dr. Frankenstein, but I think your creature is loose.