Thursday, September 01, 2005


From today's edition of "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer. Blitzer is speaking with CNN reporter Jeanne Meserve.

MESERVE: As I and many others have said, Wolf, this devastation is unprecedented.

BLITZER: ‘Unprecedented’…hmm…but is it, really, Jeanne?

MESERVE: How do you mean, Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, Jeanne, it just strikes me as interesting that our response to disaster—or at least the vocabulary of our response—always seems to inflate itself with adamant chronocentric claims—“unprecedented”; “worst ever”; “nothing like it in the history of this nation”—at precisely the point when we have no use for such claims—that is, when the scope of the disaster, the plain fact of naked human suffering, is immediately apparent.

MESERVE: But isn’t it the worst ever?

BLITZER: Does it really matter, Jeanne? Is it our role to host and judge a competition between chronologically various disasters? Isn’t the current disaster, whatever it may be, “unprecedented” and “the worst ever” because it’s happening to us, now? Because since we are alive now we are the only ones—or mainly the only ones—who matter? That all traumatic experience is new in its own way? Even if in some cases it’s actually a repetition or recurrence of some trauma we experienced earlier in our lives?

MESERVE: So you’re saying, Wolf, that actually it is the worst ever?

BLITZER: Well, no, Jeanne, as a matter of fact it’s not. Once again, the whole historical competition thing seems kind of tasteless to me. Like I said, if you want you can go ahead and pin the “Worst Post-Hurricane Flooding and Total Evacuation of an American City with More Than 500,000 Residents” award on New Orleans—but does New Orleans need any such award? No, it doesn’t. It needs a whole lot of actual shit, though—tons of clean water and food and medicine, for instance, as well as one seriously kick-ass army of engineers and construction workers.

MESERVE: That’s true, Wolf. But what was worse?

BLITZER: Oh, there have been other hurricanes. I forget all their names—Winston? Rolanda? Daniel?—but they were pretty fucking awful. There have been earthquakes in San Francisco where the whole city burnt to the ground—in fact I think that may have happened more than once. Droughts, crop failures—we had a dustbowl, a Great Depression for Christ’s sake. In 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania flooded and nearly 3,000 people died. As many as on 9/11. And that was probably, like, half the population, dead. And it flooded again in the 1930s, and again in the 70s, and lots of people died.

MESERVE: That sucks, Wolf.

BLITZER: It does suck, Jeanne, you put it quite accurately. I think you’re getting my point. This shit recurs, whether cyclically or in irregular patterns—and I’m only talking about the modern U.S. here, where things are relatively easy—and every time the shit comes it’s the worst. Not the “worst ever”—just the worst. It “sucks,” to borrow your term. And usually it seems to just fall out of the sky—the “shit,” I mean—which is why I guess we call natural disasters “acts of God,” though probably no one except crazy fucks like Pat Robertson actually think in terms of God micromanaging earthly phenomena to the extent that he sends a freaking hurricane in this or that particular path depending on his mood or whim. That’s just paranoia at its most vulgar, it’s not even paranoia really, in fact it’s much less interesting than paranoia, it’s just plain dumb-assitude and cruel, childish daydreaming.

MESERVE: So God doesn’t hate New Orleans, Wolf? Or at least the gays in New Orleans?

BLITZER: What God thinks isn’t the point, Jeanne. But I’ll tell you who doesn’t give a shit about New Orleans or any other place, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Who, Wolf?

BLITZER: President Bush and his corprate cronies, especially the military-industrial ones. Those people are some cold-hearted motherfuckers, Jeanne. Even the nationalist theocrats, yeah they’re a bunch of hateful assholes, but their whole gig is based on values--nasty values perhaps, but values nonetheless, and even as stupid and as greedy as they are I bet some of the old missionary-like donate-food-and-clothing juice gets flowing in their shrivelled hearts in times like this. Despite themselves, you could say. But not so with Bush and the corporatist crowd. They really just do NOT give a shit. It’s scary, Jeanne.

MESERVE: How so, Wolf?

BLITZER: Because with them it’s all about economics and the politics of economics. Human life to them is ONLY a cost-benefit analysis. It’s about as militantly anti-Christian as you can get. Consider this, Jeanne. The 1889 Johnstown Flood I was talking about before. When shit that bad—truly apocalyptic-seeming catastrophe—goes down, it seems to people like the catastrophe just fell on them out of the sky—an “act of God,” as it were. And in some sense that’s true, since no one controls the rain or hurricanes. But in fact the reason Johnstown flooded and everyone got killed was because a bunch of wealthy industrialists from Pittsburgh—the Bush crowd of the first Gilded Age—had a private fishing lake up on the mountain above the town. The lake was contained by a dam, and they didn’t keep the dam up to snuff. Why? Some complicated engineering problem? Well, not really. They just didn’t fucking feel like paying for it. And they let the lake’s drainage system get clogged up because the fishing was better that way. And that kind of negligence is fine until the shit goes down—i.e., unexpectedly massive rainfall—and the dam breaks, and 3,000 people get killed overnight when the lake pours out of the busted dam and floods the town.

MESERVE: Damn, Wolf. That’s bad.

BLITZER: It was bad, Jeanne. And the weird thing was, after the catastrophe, there wasn't much of an accounting. Most people didn’t want to start blaming the industrialists for their unmaintained dam. They preferred to think of it as an “act of God”—a catastrophe visited upon them out of the sky, out of nowhere.

MESERVE: But why, Wolf?

BLITZER: Because it’s just too horrible, otherwise. People don’t want to think their leaders, the people in charge in society, are that fucking careless of human life, that they’d refuse to shell out a tiny bit of their massive wealth as a safeguard against the small but real chance of a huge number of not-wealthy people dying in a flood.

MESERVE: Any other instances of that kind of thing, Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, there was 9/11. The evidence is pretty much out there on the table that although the Bush administration may not have had specific knowledge of the coming attacks, they had a pretty damn good idea that something was about to go down—"Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." etc.--and once it started to go down, it seems like they pretty much just let it happen. They knew it would benefit them, and it did. They got power from it, and the power has allowed them to rule and to plunder. And they’re still plundering—look at the tax cuts, look at the war profiteering.

MESERVE: But Wolf, what does this have to do with New Orleans?

BLITZER: Maybe nothing, Jeanne. But we know three things—one, that a shitload of funding for preventative engineering on the levees was cut; two, that a shitload of that funding was put into the Iraq war, off of which Bush’s friends have made tons of money; and three, that the majority of the people totally fucked by this whole disaster are poor people, or at least not-rich people.

MESERVE: Are you saying, Wolf, that Bush allowed the levees to break in order to screw the poor?

BLITZER: No I’m not, Jeanne. Bush has no interest in screwing or not-screwing the poor. We can’t even say that “the poor” are something that he has the ability to form representations of in his mind, except in the most abstract and extraneous way. It’s the bigger picture I’m talking about. The more amnesic we as a society become—the more we see every new event as “unprecedented” and “the worst ever” and totally out of the blue—the less prepared or interested we become in the larger scheme of how we take care of our society. When we’re unprepared and have no foresight, when catastrophe becomes just an occasion for “heroes” to swoop down and rescue us, we make ourselves vulnerable to charlatans and vultures and worse. The disaster becomes a movie, something we use to feel good about ourselves. But it's not a movie--it's real. There's nothing to feel good about in situations like this or 9/11. Wave all the flags you want and pat yourself on the back because "the best in you" has been brought out--but the inescapable horror doesn't give a shit about your flags or your reading from a media-fed script of patriotic sentiment. Bad, catastrophic shit is always going to go down. Always. It’s a historical given. But some of it we can prevent, and that should be the first priority. That's why I guess I'm uncomfortable with the "unprecedented" thing, because it seems to enable our ignorance of cause-and-effect, and the more we lose track of cause-and-effect the more fictive and imaginary becomes the relationship between, say, government policy and what happens to us in the lives we live. It enables Condoleezza Rice to actually open her mouth on 9/11 and say "No one could ever have expected" yada yada yada. Well, yes, as a matter of fact they could expect it, and did.
After prevention and preparation, the only question is how we’re going to distribute wealth and resources in such a way that we can minimize human suffering when the shit occurs. And the richest nation in the history of the world—OK, there’s a real “unprecedented” for you, Jeanne—should be able to handle it better. I mean, charity’s fine, but should a wealthy post-industrial country depend on charity as a social safety net, as a system of national security? Fuck no, Jeanne. A country like ours should have its shit together. We could be far more nationally secure if we wanted to. But real national security is about sharing resources, and Bush’s corporate crowd scoffs at that. Like, we just reported that the Kellogg corporation has sent seven trucks of cereal to New Orleans. Seven trucks of cereal? I mean give me a fucking break, Jeanne. Those people needed an army like two days ago. And Kellogg is sending a few thousand bucks worth of freaking cereal?

MESERVE: And Bush?

BLITZER: He surveyed New Orleans from Air Force One.

MESERVE: That's right, Wolf. I now recall that he was also cruising around the skyways on 9/11, while lower Manhattan was collapsing in ruins. Actually while the Twin Towers were collapsing and there were thought to be other hijacked aircraft unaccounted-for, he was reading a book about a goat to schoolchildren. Then he went cruising the skyways. What do you imagine it must have looked like from up there, Wolf?

BLITZER: Up in the sky? The place where disasters come from? I don’t know, Jeanne.

MESERVE: “Unprecedented,” would you say?

BLITZER: Yes, Jeanne, unprecedented.


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