I watched two guys pumping gas today. One was filling up the family mini-van, the other was gassing up the SUV. They leaned against their vehicles and didn't say a word to one another. A sign in front of the station listed two sets of prices: one for gas ($3 plus a gallon), and the other listed the price for a carton of Marlboros ($38.26). My guess is that in health-conscious Northern California, neither of these guys smoked, so they must have been saving money, right?
Some of the notions that have been swirling in my head for the past few hours suggest some kind of resiliency. The second phase of my grief (as well as most subsequent stages) involve some smart-ass response. It occurred to me that the National Guard should make good on the sketchy "commitment" that George W. Bush made back in the 70's and ask him to come on back for a month or two to help out in the Gulf Coast. He's shown how good he is at clearing brush on his extended stays in Crawford; why not put some of that talent to use clearing rubble in Biloxi or New Orleans? I understand that the government will help his employers cover his absence, and if he's gone for an extended period, maybe they could hire someone to replace him.
The other twisted notion was to have Disney buy the whole area, and have them turn it into one big entertainment complex. They could have a chance to rebuild New Orleans Square to scale, and the "cast members" could be hired directly from the pool of applicants waiting in line for food and shelter. At the very least, they could make standing in line a little more tolerable by having Mickey and his crew drop by to sign autographs and take some photos while they wait.
But really - here's what Tim Russert said on "Meet the Press" today:
"Joining us is the man in charge of the federal response to the disaster, the director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.
Mr. Secretary, this is yesterday's Daily News: 'Shame Of A Nation.' And I want to read it to you and our viewers very carefully. It says, 'As for Chertoff, if this is the best his department can do, the homeland is not very secure at all. It is absolutely outrageous that the United States of America could not send help to tens of thousands of forlorn, frightened, sick and hungry human beings at least 24 hours before it did, arguably longer than that. Who is specifically at fault for what is nothing less than a national scandal... It will never be known exactly what a day could have meant to so many unfortunates whose lives came to an end in those hopelessly tortured hours--on scorching roadsides, for lack of a swallow of water, in sweltering hospital bads, for lack of insulin. But what is already more than clear is that the nation's disaster-preparedness mechanisms do not appear to be in the hands of officials who know how to run them.'
Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation?"
To which the Secretary of Homeland Security began to prattle on about his master's talking points. Then he was pressed more directly about the government's lack of preparedness. The wheels started to come off:
"And one last point I'd make is this, Tim. We had actually prestaged a tremendous number of supplies, meals, shelter, water. We had prestaged, even before the hurricane, dozens of Coast Guard helicopters, which were obviously nearby but not in the area. So the difficulty wasn't lack of supplies. The difficulty was that when the levee broke, it was very, very hard to get the supplies to the people. I-10 was submerged. There was only one significant road going all the way the way around. Much of the city was flooded. The only way to get to people and to get supplies was to have airdrops and helicopters. And frankly, it is very--and their first priority was rescuing people from rooftops. So we really had a tremendous strain on the capacity of--to be able to both rescue people and also to be able to get them supplies.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, you say prestaged. People were sent to the Convention Center. There was no water, no food, no beds, no authorities there. There was no planning."
Come to think of it, maybe I'm not feeling any better about this just yet.