Saturday, September 03, 2005
In attempting to recover from the Katrina disaster, it will be essential for citizens to have a firm grasp of the truth of the situation. Everyone must understand exactly what has happened. This is necessary not only to prevent the disaster from recurring, but also, and more importantly, in order to judge the authority of the claims of the victims. In the coming years, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to suffer as a result of this disaster. Many will be homeless for the indefinite future. They have nothing, and will continue to require government assistance. The public and the government must appreciate the authority of the claims made by these people. Such appreciation will require the clear recognition of what has happened to these people.
The truth is that they are victims not only of the hurricane, but also of the shockingly cruel and callously incompetent Federal response to the hurricane. The truth is that these people have been betrayed by the entire Federal government. This fact must always be remembered in the coming years, as the population at large is called upon to assist in the recovery.
This truth will not be remembered in the future if it is not acknowledged as soon as possible. The government itself must acknowledge this truth if it is to make a useful contribution to the disaster that it has helped to bring about. George Bush must acknowledge this truth. But if he does make this acknowledgment, he will have to resign immediately from the Office of President. The immediate resignation of Bush and his cabinet is in fact the only way for the government to acknowledge its role in the disaster. For the sake of the recovery of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast region, it is essential that Bush and his cabinet immediately resign.
UPDATE: Also see Talking Points Memo. The Boston Herald is reporting that Mike Brown was fired from the job he held before he was hired by FEMA. For those of you who don't know this, Brown's job, for 10 years, was to oversee horse shows. But he was fired for incompetence. In 2001, his college roommate, Joe Allbaugh, made him Deputy Director of FEMA. Brown had lost the horse show gig, and his college buddy was doing him a favor. In 2003, Brown was made FEMA Director.
To the Editor:
My husband's family has resided in the center of New Orleans for six generations, and we have long known of and feared the "doomsday" scenario. PBS even broadcast a documentary that clearly spelled out that a hit by this type of hurricane could put New Orleans under water or destroy it forever.
Therefore, we were in a state of disbelief for 48 hours before the storm's landfall, watching the federal government do so little to prepare for it. My husband's parents and relatives had cars, thankfully, but there were more than 100,000 people known to have no way out of the city.
Where were the planes and buses and trucks that could have been used to evacuate the stranded in advance? What was the thinking in herding people into a dome, with no thought to a way out in the aftermath?
There was plenty of time for the federal government, in a coordinated effort with the state and the city, to have rescued these people. The failure we are now witnessing is unforgivable. The storm was not preventable, but the death and suffering were. This time, there was all the warning in the world.
Elizabeth N. Porteous
New York, Sept. 2, 2005
To the Editor:
Some people wonder why those in New Orleans stayed when they knew a hurricane was coming. It is important to understand that most of those who stayed behind are the poorest of the poor. They stayed because they didn't have a car to drive them to safety.
And if they had had one, where would they have gone? Many have never been out of their community.
Even if they had been able to get out, they don't have credit cards to pay for a hotel. They barely have enough on which to live when things are going well.
These are people who don't know if their kids will have presents for Christmas. These are families that probably never had a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey.
The poor in this country have too long been ignored and demonized.
Simply put, those people we see suffering in New Orleans are there because they are dirt poor and have no means to leave and nowhere to go.
It is time we stop giving tax cuts to the rich and tax breaks to companies that move factories overseas, and it is time to increase our investment in education and jobs here.
We need to do this for the poor children we see suffering in New Orleans.
Eric B. Maron
Lafayette, La., Sept. 2, 2005
Friday, September 02, 2005
Hastert was still reeling from reaction to his comments earlier this week about the storm-ravaged city. "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," he said in an interview with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. Asked whether it made sense to spend billions of dollars rebuilding a city that lies below sea level, he told the paper, "I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me."
In Syracuse, N.Y., former president Bill Clinton was discussing New Orleans's dilemma when someone described the speaker's comments. Had they been in the same place when the remarks were made, Clinton said, "I'm afraid I would have assaulted him."
The big disconnect on New Orleans
The official version; then there's the in-the-trenches version
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Diverging views of a crumbling New Orleans emerged Thursday. The sanitized view came from federal officials at news conferences and television appearances. But the official line was contradicted by grittier, more desperate views from the shelters and the streets.
These conflicting views came within hours, sometimes minutes of each of each other, as reflected in CNN's transcripts. The speakers include Michael Brown, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin,evacuee Raymond Cooper, CNN correspondents and others. Here's what they had to say:
Conditions in the Convention Center
• FEMA chief Brown: We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need. (See video of CNN asking why FEMA is clueless about conditions -- 2:11)
• Mayor Nagin: The convention center is unsanitary and unsafe, and we are running out of supplies for the 15,000 to 20,000 people. (Hear Nagin's angry demand for soldiers. 1:04)
• CNN Producer Kim Segal: It was chaos. There was nobody there, nobody in charge. And there was nobody giving even water. The children, you should see them, they're all just in tears. There are sick people. We saw... people who are dying in front of you.
• Evacuee Raymond Cooper: Sir, you've got about 3,000 people here in this -- in the Convention Center right now. They're hungry. Don't have any food. We were told two-and-a-half days ago to make our way to the Superdome or the Convention Center by our mayor. And which when we got here, was no one to tell us what to do, no one to direct us, no authority figure.
• Brown: That's not been reported to me, so I'm not going to comment. Until I actually get a report from my teams that say, "We have bodies located here or there," I'm just not going to speculate.
• Segal: We saw one body. A person is in a wheelchair and someone had pushed (her) off to the side and draped just like a blanket over this person in the wheelchair. And then there is another body next to that. There were others they were willing to show us. ( See CNN report, 'People are dying in front of us' -- 4:36 )
• Evacuee Cooper: They had a couple of policemen out here, sir, about six or seven policemen told me directly, when I went to tell them, hey, man, you got bodies in there. You got two old ladies that just passed, just had died, people dragging the bodies into little corners. One guy -- that's how I found out. The guy had actually, hey, man, anybody sleeping over here? I'm like, no. He dragged two bodies in there. Now you just -- I just found out there was a lady and an old man, the lady went to nudge him. He's dead.
• Brown: I've just learned today that we ... are in the process of completing the evacuations of the hospitals, that those are going very well.
• CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's gruesome. I guess that is the best word for it. If you think about a hospital, for example, the morgue is in the basement, and the basement is completely flooded. So you can just imagine the scene down there. But when patients die in the hospital, there is no place to put them, so they're in the stairwells. It is one of the most unbelievable situations I've seen as a doctor, certainly as a journalist as well. There is no electricity. There is no water. There's over 200 patients still here remaining. ...We found our way in through a chopper and had to land at a landing strip and then take a boat. And it is exactly ... where the boat was traveling where the snipers opened fire yesterday, halting all the evacuations. ( Watch the video report of corpses stacked in stairwells -- 4:45 )
• Dr. Matthew Bellew, Charity Hospital: We still have 200 patients in this hospital, many of them needing care that they just can't get. The conditions are such that it's very dangerous for the patients. Just about all the patients in our services had fevers. Our toilets are overflowing. They are filled with stool and urine. And the smell, if you can imagine, is so bad, you know, many of us had gagging and some people even threw up. It's pretty rough.(Mayor's video: Armed addicts fighting for a fix -- 1:03)
Violence and civil unrest
• Brown: I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that.
• CNN's Chris Lawrence: From here and from talking to the police officers, they're losing control of the city. We're now standing on the roof of one of the police stations. The police officers came by and told us in very, very strong terms it wasn't safe to be out on the street. (Watch the video report on explosions and gunfire -- 2:12)
The federal response:
• Brown: Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well.
• Homeland Security Director Chertoff: Now, of course, a critical element of what we're doing is the process of evacuation and securing New Orleans and other areas that are afflicted. And here the Department of Defense has performed magnificently, as has the National Guard, in bringing enormous resources and capabilities to bear in the areas that are suffering.
• Crowd chanting outside the Convention Center: We want help.
• Nagin: They don't have a clue what's going on down there.
• Phyllis Petrich, a tourist stranded at the Ritz-Carlton: They are invisible. We have no idea where they are. We hear bits and pieces that the National Guard is around, but where? We have not seen them. We have not seen FEMA officials. We have seen no one.
• Brown: I actually think the security is pretty darn good. There's some really bad people out there that are causing some problems, and it seems to me that every time a bad person wants to scream of cause a problem, there's somebody there with a camera to stick it in their face. ( See Jack Cafferty's rant on the government's 'bungled' response -- 0:57)
• Chertoff: In addition to local law enforcement, we have 2,800 National Guard in New Orleans as we speak today. One thousand four hundred additional National Guard military police trained soldiers will be arriving every day: 1,400 today, 1,400 tomorrow and 1,400 the next day.
• Nagin: I continue to hear that troops are on the way, but we are still protecting the city with only 1,500 New Orleans police officers, an additional 300 law enforcement personnel, 250 National Guard troops, and other military personnel who are primarily focused on evacuation.
• Lawrence: The police are very, very tense right now. They're literally riding around, full assault weapons, full tactical gear, in pickup trucks. Five, six, seven, eight officers. It is a very tense situation here.
Asked later how the richest country on Earth could not meet the needs of its people, Bush said "I am satisfied with the response. I am not satisfied with all the results."
2. And this (from CNN, transcribed by Kos):
Bush to women: "There's a Salvation Army center that I want to, that I'll tell you where it is, and they'll get you some help. I'm sorry.... They'll help you.....
Woman 1: "I came here looking for clothes..."
Bush: "They'll get you some clothes, at the Salvation Army center..."
Woman 1: "We don't have anything..."
Bush: "I understand.... Do you know where the center is, that I'm talking to you about?"
Guy with shades: "There's no center there, sir, it's a truck."
Bush: "There's trucks?"
Guy: "There's a school, a school about two miles away....."
Bush: "But isn't there a Salvation center down there?"
Guy: "No that's wiped out...."
Bush: "A temporary center? "
Guy: "No sir they've got a truck there, for food."
Bush: "That's what I'm saying, for food and water."
Bush turns to the sister who's been saying how she needs clothes.
Bush to sister: "You need food and water."
Is he actually fucking retarded???
When the sick, the poor, the unlucky, and the uncared-for are about to be victimized, the Christian stays at their side.
This is not to say that I would have stayed in New Orleans, or that anyone could possibly be blamed for leaving. It is just to counter the incomprehensibly evil talking-point (all talking-points are evil, but this is the worst) that the people who are dying now were too stupid (or black) to leave the city (and so, by implication, deserve to die). If the Bush looting junta knew a single thing about Christianity or "values" of any sort, they would know that there must be many people in New Orleans right now who actually did, as Mike Brown and Michael Chertoff have said, "choose" to stay there--because their aunt or grandfather, say, was too old to drive for 5 hours on Saturday; or because their nieces and nephews didn't all fit into the one available van; or because a bunch of their neighbors didn't have the money to check into hotels indefinitely... Many stayed, no doubt, out of feelings of love and loyalty and duty and solidarity--the Christian values that Brown and Chertoff are now systematically desecrating; the Christian values that, when practiced by black people, look to Republicans like obstinacy and stupidity.
Are there words to describe the nature of the obscenities these men have uttered? Can anyone think of comparable recent utterances? It seems to me that there is a real undercurrent here of fascination with the destruction of the city. It's not just that the victims "chose" death; it's that the whole horror seems to offer an interesting experiment in what eugenists might try to call "survival of the fittest," or in what Ayn-Rand libertarians would see as a necessary social adjustment. This sort of thinking is also behind House Speaker Dennis "Denny" Hastert's suggestion that we just forget about New Orleans.
[Some unrelated points: Blicero pointed out to me that Senator Mary Landrieu is appealing to hotel owners not to "gouge" prices. This is how we deal with a massive refugee crisis in the continental United States--not by preparing tent cities, or commandeering schools and federal buildings (both of which measures could have been taken before the storm), but by asking nicely after the storm that hotel owners charge refugees no more than full price for indefinite lodging.
This refugee crisis will, in the coming days, develop into a new disaster. There are hundreds of thousands of people all around the South with nowhere to stay. Even if they can afford to pay for a week in a hotel, even if they have relatives living in nearby states, eventually they will have to go somewhere. Where? And just how many refugees are there? Does anyone know? Let's pray that there aren't fewer refugees than is expected; that would mean many more people dead in the city.]
In any case, as we look back on what has happened and try to understand what went wrong, it will become increasingly clear that there is only one policy proposal that would likely improve the Federal response in the event of a future disaster: the resignation of President Bush and his entire cabinet. After providing immediate material relief, this should be the one and only goal of concerned citizens. There should be a march on Washington demanding these resignations. It shoud culminate in a direct action, in which hopefully hundreds of thousands of people would refuse to leave the Mall until the resignations were announced. The President is guilty of the criminally negligent homicide of thousands of people. He must resign. Could such an march be organized?
UPDATE: From All Things Considered, Thursday afternoon:
Robert Siegel: We are hearing from our reporter, he's on another line right now,
thousands of people at the convention center in New Orleans with no food, zero.
Chertoff: As I said, I'm telling you we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging. The one about an episode like this is if you talk to someone or you get a rumor or an anecdotal version of something I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place.
Robert Siegel: But Mr. Secretary when you say we shouldn't listen to rumors. These are things coming from reporters who have not only covered many many other hurricanes, they've covered wars and refugee camps. These aren't rumors, they are saying there are thousands of people there.
Chertoff: I would be--I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Isn't this the absolute nexus between the "Christian" theofascists and the Grover Norquist corporatist fascists? I.e., "make people suffer until they hate the government enough to help us dismantle it." Maybe the "lucky duckies" in the low marginal tax brackets will now learn the important lesson that the government can't help them--only "they" can "help themselves."
What a day for the director of FEMA! First this:
"Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN.
"I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but...
He doesn't "make judgments"! Whew--that's a relief!
...you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans," he said.
"So, we've got to figure out some way to convince people that whenever warnings go out it's for their own good," Brown said. "Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that...
Of course not!
...My job now is to get relief to them."
If that's your job, you fuck, you haven't done it. Actually his job was precisely to repeat the Bush administration's blast-faxed "question the victims" talking point, which is exactly what he and Michael Chertoff did.
And then this on CNN:
FEMA's Mike Brown: I will tell you this though, every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today. And so I had directed that we have all available resources to get to that convention center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care they need...
A clearly pissed Paula Zahn: Sir, you're not telling me, you're not telling me you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn't have food and water until today did you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?
FEMA's Brown: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.
I've been thinking about the racial dynamic that is going almost completely uncommented upon, but is obvious in the photographs of the New Orleans disaster: the people who remained behind were overwhelmingly black, while the people helping them appear to be largely white.
Without commentary, without explanation, the most immediate conclusion for
the average reader is that the black people were too "stupid" (a very loaded word that I have already heard from many mouths) to leave the city even though they had at least three days' warning about a catastrophic hurricaine headed their way, and now it is the white man's burden to come and help them.
Now, were there any kind of THOUGHT applied to this exclusively photographic message, it might conclude that what we are seeing, both in the images of helplessness and looting, is a completely neglected group of people who had been abandoned by state authorities and left to their own devices. Indeed, the order to evacuate the city could only be heeded by those with their own cars, leaving the significant, largely black and Creole underclass to simply wait around, or to elect to flee to quasi-prison conditions of the Superdome. Amidst such governmental neglect and such dire choices, is it any surprise that so much crime arose in the wake of the devastation? "You think we're invisible?" These folks seem to be saying, "Well, here we are!"
It is little wonder that the press has fallen back upon racist stereotypes, albeit communicated solely through photographs-- through the relatively new, and now totally dominant, medium of photographic literacy-- to explain what has been going on. In today's world, one journalistic dictum stands high above all others: whatever you do, don't critique the government, and whatever you really have to say, say it in pictures. But the real message is an old one: the same, sad, racist South. Yet we can only pray that the poorer and darker would be treated any better were some disaster to befall us anywhere else in this country.
The reports being broadcast on CNN from the Convention Center are so sad, so frightening.
In case anyone is not aware that this natural disaster is also, shamefully and sickeningly, a man-made disaster of the first order, please immediately go read Atrios and Talkingpointsmemo, and also visit the Talkingpointsmemo cafe. I cannot possibly list the myriad callous obscenities performed and uttered by the Bush administration, both before and after the hurricane hit. Blaming the poor black people for being poor, insisting that they were too stupid to leave when they obviously couldn't afford it and had nowhere to go, wishing that they would hurry up and perish, and at the same time pretending that "no one could have anticipated any of this"--this is all just the tip of the iceberg.
P.S.: Condoleeza Rice was seen TODAY going shoe-shopping on 5th Avenue. Last night she attended a performance of "Spamalot" on Broadway. THIS IS NOT A JOKE.
P.P.S.: Employees of the Department of HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES received e-mails TODAY reminding them to enjoy themselves at the Sept. 11 Freedom Walk and the subsequent free concert by Clint Black.
1) Just to substantiate Wolf Blitzer's points below: one of Bush's main priorities has been gutting FEMA, the agency formerly headed by James Lee Witt, who essentially rebuilt it after 12 years of malign Republican neglect. As Blicero remembers, Al Gore made the deceptive mistake in 2000 of claiming to know this James Lee Witt, who came in for a lot of meaningless praise during the 2000 campaign; but the sociopathic Gore had only met James Lee Witt's assistant. In any case, James Lee Witt's agency, FEMA, was put in the hands of Bush crony and crew-cutted blood-thirsty jack-booted corporate fascist kleptocrat Joe Allbaugh in 2000. But for the last couple of years, after helping to gut FEMA, Allbaugh has been cashing in on the FEMA name at his own private firm for looting (which employs no black people scavenging for food in flooded cities). As Josh Marshall makes clear at TPM, the whole idea of federal disaster preparedness has been systematically mocked by the Bush looting team.
2) This is a more horrible point. Today, I had to listen to some demented ghoul reading letters from ignorant Americans who had been enjoying the disaster on TV. All of the letters were noting that "we" Americans (the term "we" evidently means both the suffering victims in New Orleans and the titillated TV audience) should get money from the rest of the world, because we gave money to the victims of the 2004 tsunami. Never mind that "we" have all or most of the money in the world. And never mind that New Orleans doesn't really need money right now, it needs soldiers and doctors and engineers, and it needs to have had the Federal government listen to it when it went on and on for years about the need for Federal support in the repairing of the city's levees. And never mind that many of the Asian areas to which "we" gave money no longer have the money "we" gave them, or any money at all, because those areas were living in destitution before the tsunami, which then caused more damage than could be conceived of or ever repaired, the cost of which is still beyond estimation, but which nonetheless doubtless exceeds the sums of money that have already been donated. Never mind all of that.
None of it is as sickening as the more fundamental idea that the Hurricane provides "us" (that is, TV viewers) with a chance to be the victims, and to enjoy "ourselves" as the ones who get to have TV attention, world sympathy, and lots of dead "heroes"--that it is our turn to revel in death, that this is, as the NY Post put it obscenely today on its shockingly repulsive front page, "our tsunami." Let's unpack the implications of this phrase:
a) Hurricane Katrina, which has caused inconveivable suffering and taken thousands of lives and disrupted the lives of millions, is "as bad" as the 2004 tsunami, which killed at least 250,000 people, and probably closer to half a million, and which erased from the face of the earth an entire province of Indonesia.
b) The deaths of those hundreds of thousands of people would somehow have been worse if the deaths had been "ours," if they had been the deaths of Americans.
c) The suffering in New Orleans is in fact worse because it is indeed "ours." But of course: those who suffer do not pause to say, "This suffering is terrible, even more so because it is mine." Only TV viewers and "journalists" take the time to appropriate suffering explicitly and with pride. Only they take the time to declare publicly that they possess the suffering.
d) There are apparently many Americans (at least, this is what the NY Post headline assumes) who are not actually seized by the presence of hundreds of thousands of suffering victims in their own country, who are so detached from the spectacle of the disaster that they want and need to be reminded that it is "theirs" before they start to try to feel sympathy for the victims or even interest in their plight.
These Americans (it is assumed) respond only to the suffering of "their" people not because they are chauvinistic or racist. That would be too simple and actually too reassuring an explanation.
In fact, knowing that the people dying on TV are "theirs" allows viewers to experience the thrill of being part of the televised disaster, even as they recline in their air-conditioned living rooms. If it is "ours," then "we" too are part of the "event," and are thus experiencing the "really real" as it is sanctioned, indeed sanctified, by the presence of corpses and TV cameras. If it is "ours," then "we" too are dead, and on TV, even though we can eat burgers and drink beer and sit around waiting, condemned to go on living. If the suffering is "ours," then we don't have to respond to it or take an attitude towards it or try to articulate our confused feelings of guilt and impotence, because "we," too, are actually suffering (even though we are not).
This is the ultimate purpose of the claim to possess suffering: it allows us to avoid the difficulty of actually looking at it, seeing it, determining our place and responsibility in relation to it, feeling our difference from the victims, and being reminded of the fact that--still--we are alive.
UPDATE: Thursday morning. I cannot take this shit anymore. I ought to be covered in my own vomit after reading the top few posts at Atrios. Just go there, read, and learn 1) that the current head of FEMA was formerly an estate planning lawyer; 2) that Michael Chertoff was promoting Homeland Security's "National Preparedness Month" on Fox News yesterday morning; 3) that Chertoff said that the reason people are currently dying in the New Orleans Convention Center is that that they made the "choice" not to leave the city--even though most of the people who remained in the city obviously do not have cars and the money to pay for bus or train tickets, and even though the Federal looting team (we have no government) made no effort whatsoever to assist in any sort of organized pre-storm evacuation; 4) that Bush said on national television this morning that "no one could have anticipated" the levee breaking, even though human beings representing the city government of New Orleans had, for the duration of Bush's 5 years as chief looter, used words to describe the danger of cutting Federal funds for the ongoing task of fortifying the city's levees, and also used words (frequently quoted in newspaper articles) to warn that the levees could break in the case of a major hurricane.
Bush will rot in hell for this. I believe it. He is actually rotting in hell at this very moment. One cannot speak as he has just done, on national television, without in that very moment exposing oneself to judgment. He has become a demon. The death that sucks us in towards the black holes of his eyes--this death at the same time expresses the truth of his merciless self-damnation. There is nothing left in him. He has murdered his own humanity. Suicide, or any form of subsequent death, is impossible. He is already dead and in hell, and what we see is a demon suffering eternal torment. It looks different in hell, where Bush actually and eternally is, at this very moment. On earth, eternal torment and demonic self-murder take on the aspect of Bush's demented vortical face.
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.
KEEPING ITS HEAD ABOVE WATER
New Orleans faces doomsday scenario
By ERIC BERGER
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle Science Writer
New Orleans is sinking.
And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster.
So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters facing this country.
The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.
The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.
In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.
It's been 36 years since Hurricane Betsy buried New Orleans 8 feet deep. Since then a deteriorating ecosystem and increased development have left the city in an ever more precarious position. Yet the problem went unaddressed for decades by a laissez-faire government, experts said.
"To some extent, I think we've been lulled to sleep," said Marc Levitan, director of Louisiana State University's hurricane center.
A big storm, scientists said, would likely block four of five evacuation routes long before it hit. Those left behind would have no power or transportation, and little food or medicine, and no prospects for a return to normal any time soon.
"The bowl would be full," Levitan said. "There's simply no place for the water to drain."
Estimates for pumping the city dry after a huge storm vary from six to 16 weeks. Hundreds of thousands would be homeless, their residences destroyed.
The only solution, scientists, politicians and other Louisiana officials agree, is to take large-scale steps to minimize the risks, such as rebuilding the protective delta.
Every two miles of marsh between New Orleans and the Gulf reduces a storm surge -- which in some cases is 20 feet or higher -- by half a foot.
In 1990, the Breaux Act, named for its author, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., created a task force of several federal agencies to address the severe wetlands loss in coastal Louisiana. The act has brought about $40 million a year for wetland restoration projects, but it hasn't been enough.
"It's kind of been like trying to give aspirin to a cancer patient," said Len Bahr, director of Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster's coastal activities office.
The state loses about 25 square miles of land a year, the equivalent of about one football field every 15 minutes. The fishing industry, without marshes, swamps and fertile wetlands, could lose a projected $37 billion by the year 2050.
University of New Orleans researchers studied the impact of Breaux Act projects on the vanishing wetlands and estimated that only 2 percent of the loss has been averted. Clearly, Bahr said, there is a need for something much bigger. There is some evidence this finally may be happening.
A consortium of local, state and federal agencies is studying a $2 billion to $3 billion plan to divert sediment from the Mississippi River back into the delta. Because the river is leveed all the way to the Gulf, where sediment is dumped into deep water, nothing is left to replenish the receding delta.
Other possible projects include restoration of barrier reefs and perhaps a large gate to prevent Lake Pontchartrain from overflowing and drowning the city.
All are multibillion-dollar projects. A plan to restore the Florida Everglades attracted $4 billion in federal funding, but the state had to match it dollar for dollar. In Louisiana, so far, there's only been a willingness to match 15 or 25 cents.
"Our state still looks for a 100 percent federal bailout, but that's just not going to happen," said University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland, a delta expert.
"We have an image and credibility problem. We have to convince our country that they need to take us seriously, that they can trust us to do a science-based restoration program."
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Remember that lying, lying Al Gore? He just couldn't get his story straight about James Lee Witt, could he?
Well, I guess Al Gore found out the hard way what Americans think about lying politicians!!!
Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.
While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?
It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.
I think "casual to the point of carelessness" might more accurately be termed "careless to the point of casualness." He literally does not care because he cannot. And he's not casual, nor is he relaxed, nor is he calm. He's just empty. There has possibly never been such an empty [shit-filled] shell of a "person."
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Rising gas prices and ongoing bloodshed in Iraq continue to take their toll on President Bush, whose standing with the public has sunk to an all-time low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Dissatisfaction is not limited to the president. Fewer than four in 10 Americans -- 37 percent -- approve of the way the Republican-controlled Congress is doing its job, the lowest rating for lawmakers in nearly eight years.
The survey also provided bad news for Democratic leaders...
Oh, really? But why? Too liberal?
...who are judged as offering Bush only tepid opposition. Slightly more than half of those surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with congressional Democrats for not opposing Bush more aggressively.
Will you people ever learn? No, you won't ever learn. You just won't. We're fucked.
Monday, August 29, 2005
1. Following CNN 'journalist' Jeanne Meserve's use of the term "Armageddon" to describe the devastation in New Orleans, Wolf Blitzer--manning the Situation Room--notes that because Jeanne Meserve is a professional journalist whose business is precision and accuracy, if she has used the term "Armageddon" then the situation on the ground must in fact be "Armageddon."
2. A CNN 'reader email' asking: "I wonder whether countries around the world will send help to America the way we did for them after the tsunamis?"; cut back to Wolf who, chuckling, says "I wouldn't hold my breath."
3. Pat Robertson looking/being crazy; rambling and muttering about the price of oil; obviously suffering in his attempts to restrain himself from saying more crazy shit.
4. Mississippi governor 'Haley Barbour' choking on a hot dog, convulsing and frothing.
In general: what I've seen of the TV news coverage of Hurricane Katrina reflects a deep, almost profound disappointment that America has been robbed of the chance to have several tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of its citizens transformed instantaneously into "heroes"--yet a faint hope that at least homeless/sick/suffering people (although a costly annoyance) might constituite quasi- if not full-fledged heroes.