First Drowned, Then Smothered

April 29, 2007

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as New Orleans drowned, scores of countries offered aid and assistance to America.

This WaPo story reveals that most of the aid was refused outright, squandered, or left unclaimed:

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services — such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships — were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government’s difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Administration officials acknowledged in February 2006 that they were ill prepared to coordinate and distribute foreign aid and that only about half the $126 million received had been put to use. Now, 20 months after Katrina, newly released documents and interviews make clear the magnitude of the troubles.

Overall, the story reports, 54 of 77 recorded offers of aid were refused. And when aid was accepted, the Bush administration handled it with the care and diligence the Three Stooges brought to plumbing work:

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. “Tell them we blew it,” one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: “The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded.”

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: “sent letter of thanks” and “will keep offer on hand,” the new documents show.

I should be angrier about this than I am right now. Partly it’s outrage fatigue, based in the fact that the unbridled corruption and moral squalor of the Bush administration has soiled almost every aspect of American governance. After all, the Bushies have already killed an entire country in the Middle East, so letting a city drown seens like small potatoes.

But now we see that the drowning was just a prelude to an extended period of malign neglect. And I can already smell the blustering half-smart arguments and spin that will follow from the winger flock. These are, after all, the same carrion crows who scorned Crescent City residents as a bunch of welfare bums who had only themselves to blame for not getting out of the storm’s way. They’re going to live down to my expectations.

This awareess has created an emotion that I didn’t know about before. Call it “anticipatory disgust,” and it may be remembered by historians as the defiing mood ofthe Bush administration.

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