Much has already been written--too much--about Hurricane Katrina and the on-going tragedy in its wake. I can't hope to offer any piercing new insights. But the totality of these events sums up, at least in my mind, the uglier side of America today. Let's recap:
- Hurricane warnings were put into effect well before the storm struck New Orleans. It was known last Thursday that it was heading right for the city. Residents were told to evacuate. Of course, a large percentage of the population was unable to comply. They had no cars, and Greyhound buses stopped running on Saturday, citing safety reasons.
- The brunt of the hurricane actually missed New Orleans. Then, Tuesday, the levees broke, and flooding ensued--New Orleans is below sea level. Even after five days, little help came until a few hours ago, when the National Guard finally arrived. "Hell no, I'm not glad to see them. They should have been here days ago. I ain't glad to see 'em. I'll be glad when 100 buses show up," said one frustrated storm victim.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), now absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security, has been spectacularly inept. “FEMA has been here for three days yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans,” said the city's homeland security advisor, Terry Ebbert.
- Huge crowds of hungry and thirsty people in the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Centre have had little or no food for days. Rioting, rape and beatings are reported, and much gunfire. The Army is off in Iraq, shoring up that country's democracy. The National Guard, as noted, has only just put in an appearance. Police themselves have been reduced to looting to get necessary supplies.
- Corpses are everywhere. On a grassy median, one reporter noted, an old man is stretched out on a chaise lounge, dead. Close by there’s an elderly woman in a wheelchair, dead. The wailing of babies can be heard. The heat is terrible, and unrelenting.
- All one hears from the Bushites is excuses, excuses, excuses. George W. joined former Presidents Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton in claiming that no one knew this was coming. Lies, all lies. In 2001, FEMA warned that this was one of the three major catastrophes likely to hit the US. The levees could withstand only a Category Three storm: money for strengthening them was cut by the Bush administration. A Canadian nitwit blamed the environmental movement for the cutbacks.
- Bush hasn't shown his vacuous, smirking face in New Orleans even yet, although as I write this he's finally made it to the general area. He's still on vacation, remember, give the poor guy a break. Oh, he did fly over the scene. He feels their pain. "We authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq, lickety split. After 9/11 we gave the president unauthorized powers, lickety split to help New York and other places," the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, said. "You mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through ... that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need?"
- As others have noticed, some of the media are growing a spine. Bush has shown a "diffident detachment unsuitable for a leader," thundered the conservative Manchester Union-Leader. Veteran right-wingers, CNN's Jack Cafferty and Fox News' Shep Smith, sent some pointed comments in the direction of the White House and the powers that be for sitting there mumbling "can't do" as the snail-like response to the crisis continued. No, that's unfair to them. They gave them an unprecedented tongue-lashing on prime time TV. This heart-rending video gives the flavour. It just about says it all.
- There is an obvious racial dimension to this whole thing. Where are the white faces of the disaster victims? Whites were able to evacuate. As for the people left, the stereotypes and the racism kicks in. One graphic report in the print edition of the Globe & Mail, with a picture of a crowd of blacks jostling to get onto one of the few buses made available, is headlined, "Nasty, brutish--society's net snaps." I've been around for a while, and I have never seen a white crowd, even a mob, described that way in the Globe. Here's a think-experiment: imagine a huge crowd of people, black, white, yellow, green, it matters not. Starve them for four days. Then show up with one sandwich truck.
Michael Moore was right on the money when he asked rhetorically whether white people in Kennebunkport would be left on their roofs for five days. This is the richest country in the world, and it can't run a decent rescue operation for its own citizens. Or won't.
- Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela, offered cheap oil and relief workers. Another Canadian nitwit said the US would probably refuse courteously, which was more than Chavez deserved. Even in the midst of starvation and human devastation, we mustn't forget our partisan politics, now, must we? No patriotic American, even a starving one, would accept help from a commie, right? Say, let's go ask 'em.
- The churches have been gently reminding charitable donors that the US is the wealthiest country in the world, more than capable of providing its own relief effort. Meanwhile, Bush is proposing charitable fundraising. Congress finally reconvened to kick in some much-needed cash: there had been fears that FEMA was about to run out of money. Cash is a little tight when so much of it is going to "rebuild" Iraq, or Afghanistan, or whatever country is next on the hit list. And don't forget the tax cuts. We need 'em.
- I filled up my car today. $1.35 per litre. Someone's making a killing out of this, no pun intended. Katrina's been good for business: the TSE index has soared to its highest in five years. Give us free lumber, the American lumber barons say to the Canadians, and it'll be exempt from the countervail. Bravo for big-hearted business.
Am I angry? That would be a whopping understatement. The administration cut funding for the US Corps of Engineers, stopping work on the levees that would have ensured this unspeakable tragedy had never happened. Blacks have been left to drown or starve because Bush and his buddies just don't give a damn. The FEMA emergency measures organization, with days of warning, has fumbled and bumbled and flapped incompetently. Guns are everywhere, but there's still nowhere near enough food or water, even by Day Five. Business is reaping huge profits.
America, 2005. A sick sight to behold--on so many levels.