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Wednesday

Hitchens roasts the president

Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens has some interesting things to say about the disaster response. Hitchens isn't exactly know as a left-wing hack job. Appearing on a Austrailian Broadcasting Corporation news show with Tony Jones, Hitchens offered the following comments:
Quote:
TONY JONES: What does this disaster and the ramshackle and often pathetic response to it tell us about the world's last superpower? CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, you remember the distinction between imminent threat and non-imminent threat, or permanent threat? The argument like that in the case of Iraq, which has already begun to intrude into this case too? With New Orleans the threat from flooding from the ocean, or from Lake Pontchartrain is permanent. It always could happen. But the really extraordinary thing about this is that we knew it was also imminent. And don't forget, as a third observation, that this is the lenient version of Hurricane Katrina. It was expected to be much worse, or predicted certainly that it could have been much worse. In fact, as you will remember, the real disaster only happened just as people were beginning to relax. They thought they'd got away with it again. So in these circumstances, it's really unpardonable that there should have been such little preparation. TONY JONES: Even more astonishing, wouldn't you think, that President Bush himself claimed only last Thursday that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" - when of course that's what was being anticipated by the disaster planners all over the country. CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Absolutely. It's one of the two or three best-known risks to the United States, is that the levees protecting New Orleans could break. I know that and I live in Washington. It's also, I'm afraid to say, the only thing the President has said about this that anyone can remember. I mean, he didn't get there - it isn't that they didn't fly to the city beforehand, which he could easily have done on that kind of warning, and say, "Look, I'm the President of the United States, we can't lose or even risk losing one of our great historic cities. I have come to make sure that all the state and city officials have got everything they could possibly want in advance." For example, a few piles of bottled water wouldn't have come amiss if there's going to be suddenly too much water but none of it drinkable. Elementary things like that. He didn't do that. Then he did a fly-by from his holiday retreat, and then he got there too late and then he said something completely idiotic. So I really can't see there is any forgiveness for that. And remember also, that he did interrupt his holiday not very long ago to pay attention to something that was none of his business at all as President. Namely, the alleged living condition of an actually dead woman named Terri Schiavo. TONY JONES: Let's go back one step before I pick up on some of the strands of what this actually means for the Bush presidency. Let me ask you the most obvious question: how did the US authorities, the emergency authorities in particular, get it so wrong? CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, you ask a very possibly exhaustive question. I mean, there is the federal emergency management association, FEMA, so-called, which has been going through some downgrading lately, partly because it's been folded into the greater Homeland Security bureaucracy. A lot of familiar departments to Americans sort of vanished into an alphabet soup inside the greater Homeland Security. Then there is the possibility, in fact, now the necessity, of using the armed forces and the National Guard. The Chicago Tribune has a story today, I think, that an enormous American ship, the USS 'Bataan', has been in the Gulf for some time doing nothing, just on station. It's able to pump thousands of gallons of water, converting salt to fresh. It has a hospital full of beds. It's a huge resource. It hasn't been deployed. No use has been made of it. Still doesn't have any patients. It's not really a question of the not being enough capacity, it's a matter of there not having been any coordination before the event. TONY JONES: Christopher, we heard that Jefferson Parish official, Aaron Broussard, referring to this as one of the worst ever abandonment of Americans on American soil in history. I mean, how is that going to play, that kind of cry for help coming from the centre of the disaster, with the American public? CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, it's already reverberating, judging by the conversations I've been having and the email I have been getting and so forth, it's already reverberating very powerfully indeed because of the set of circumstances I just mentioned, because it could have been avoided. It's not like, say, the terrible anniversary that we're about to observe on September 11. It's not like an earthquake even. It's something that not only could have been seen coming but was seen coming, and everyone seems to have been sleepwalking through it. That includes some of the officials of Jefferson Parish, but I have no formal quarrel with what the man says. And there is an additional thing, of course, which is the very drastic inequalities that you see among the suffering. >more

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