Sunday, April 29, 2007

After Katrina, U.S. Did Not Accept Most Offers of Aid

From the Washington Post via AlterNet:

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.

More than 10,000 pages of cables, telegraphs and e-mails from U.S. diplomats around the globe -- released piecemeal since last fall under the Freedom of Information Act -- provide a fuller account of problems that, at times, mystified generous allies and left U.S. representatives at a loss for an explanation. The documents were obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public interest group, which provided them to The Washington Post.

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 The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10.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.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a 40-page State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January 2006.

More here.

Unbelievable. It's still going on. I mean, the total amount of aid offered here is about 800 and a half million out of some 125 billion spent so far, so it's not like it's going to fix everything, but the fact that Bush has been and still is unable to take advantage of free money is really disturbing. Is this incompetence? Stupidity? Is it intentional? Either way, it's utterly incomprehensible. Actually, I'm pretty speechless. Sure, it's awful, but what the fuck is going on here? Haven't these assholes learned anything?

Meanwhile, I'm involved in a low-key flame war over at the Houston Chronicle, which now allows commenting on its online stories: the article is about another protest in New Orleans over the slower than snail's pace recovery in the poorest of devastated neighborhoods. Callous right-wing comments range from the straight-up racist to stupid-ass "pull yourself up" platitudes. Go check it out; you'll need to scroll down to the comment section at the bottom of the story. Maybe you should join in the fun--for the moment, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.