Drowning by Numbers
"Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you." - Bob Dylan
New Orleans is beginning to look like Funeralgate, supersized.
FEMA has relieved volunteers of their emergency mortuary services in Louisiana only, and contracted out to Kenyon, a "wholly-owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International" of Houston, Texas.
Are the alarms sounding yet? LightUpTheDarkness reminds us why they should be:
You may remember Service Corporation International, SCI, as it was part of the case against confirming Alberto Gonzales due to his involvement in the Texas and Florida scandals known as Funeralgate. As we covered back in February, Service Corporation International was "recycling" graves, removing the bodies that were there originally and throwing them in the woods to use the space to house new customers at two Jewish cemeteries in Florida . Service Corporation International, the world’s largest funeral service company, is headed by Robert Waltrip, a longtime friend and generous financial patron of the Bush family. Eliza May was head of the Texas Funeral Services Commission when it began receiving complaints about unlicensed embalmers, and sued when she was fired. Gonzales kept Bush from testifying in this case and was also under scrutiny when a memo surfaced that was sent to his office when he was Bush’s gubernatorial counsel. The memo suggested possible improprieties by two funeral commissioners with ties to SCI and Joeseph Allbaugh, Bush’s former chief of staff in Austin, 2000 presidential campaign manager, who now serves as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The case was suddenly settled in November 2001. The Menorah Gardens case in Florida, involving 72 families, was settled in Oct of 2004.
So, coincident with the emergence of happy talk and silver linings - Sure, it's bad, but New Orleans rescuers find fewer dead than feared - the duties of processing Louisiana's fresh kill is consigned to Bush Texas mafia with a criminal record including desecration of human remains, "recycling" graves and dumping bodies.
There is a deeply bizarre note to this, because to anyone who has paid attention to this slow-motion atrocity the bodies will be hidden in plain sight. (There is pointed irony, as well: in a bid at boosting government transparancy, China has just announced that it will no longer treat death tolls from natural disasters as state secrets.) The arrival of SCI in New Orleans is like a shredder truck pulling up outside the offices of a crooked firm expecting a forensic audit. The evidence - the bodies that are still tied to lamp posts - could be going up in the smoke of one of the city's uncontained fires, or weighted down and dumped in the bayou. It's not unimaginable - SCI has already done this.
Can they hide all the dead? They're going to try to hide the living. The head of FEMA's housing effort, Brad Fair, says that 200,000 evacuees may need "temporary" shelter for five years.
Now why, rather than offer aid which could lead, with speed, to a permanent solution in accord with the wishes of survivors, has the government determined to withhold the financial assistance necessary to support self-determination, and is spending more - five years of even basic food and shelter add up - to deny them autonomy?
That's a scary question. The challenge to a long-disengaged populace: does it have the courage to ask, and maybe answer, scary questions?