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September 4, 2005 - Readers on the administration's response to the storm and flood...

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I asked my email group if anyone have an answer to the question at the end of this item from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly.


This was what Drum posted late on September 1 –


CLUELESS... Could the people in charge of managing the catastrophe in New Orleans possibly be more clueless?

George W. Bush, President of the United States, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." [Drum links to this.]

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, following widespread eyewitness reports of refugees living like animals at the Convention Center: "I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water." [Drum links to this.]

Mike Brown, Director of FEMA, referring to people who were stuck in New Orleans largely because they were too poor to afford the means to leave: "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..." [Drum links to this.]

Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives, providing needed reassurance to the newly homeless: "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level... It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." [Drum links to this.]

This is beyond belief.  What's with these people?


So the question posed is just that - "What's with these people?"

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:


PARIS, Friday, September 2, 2005 - Last night, Thursday, I took a quick look for the names of Cafe Metropole Club members who gave hometown locations in the area that was devastated by the hurricane. One has a photo gallery in a mall in Waveland, Mississippi. He is a serious photographer and has serious prints for sale, and had customers all over North America and beyond. According to the reports so far I have to wonder whether he's still there, and if Waveland is still there. There are maybe another dozen club members with hometowns around the Mississippi delta. Will they ever be in Paris again?

The people I've talked to so far don't seem to get it. A whole major city, New Orleans, has been wiped out.

Unknown numbers of people have been killed and the ones left alive don't have any homes to return to. Whole towns have been wrecked, destroyed. All the infrastructure is gone. No water, no sewers, no electricity, no roads, no gas, no pipelines, no hospitals, no bridges. It's a war zone.

There isn't any question that simple repairs will put the place back to like it was. New Orleans has to be completely rebuilt, from the ground up. But first the 'ground' has to be created. No God is going to shift a finger to do this; there isn't going to be any snap creation.

It means that there is going to have to be a major imagination found and put to work. The imagination has to conclude that the whole thing has to be entirely rebuilt. Trying to 'fix up' the mess won't work; it isn't the time for spot bandages. Besides, rebuilding is cheaper in the short term, and will have long-term benefits. Has 'historic' New Orleans been destroyed? Rebuild a replica. It'll be faster and cheaper.

'Cheaper' is important because the overall cost will be stupendous, colossal. Whole cities, whole towns need to be replaced. Hundreds of thousands of residents need to be re-housed, as quickly as possible. It's going to require the equivalent determination and organization of a sneak attack war effort. All hands needed.

But not too cheap. The greatest danger is emergency housing; dumping people into tents or tin houses and forgetting them because they are black and poor. The area is going to be hit by new hurricanes someday. It has to be rebuilt so it can withstand the elements. And residents, no matter how poor, have a right to decent housing.

It will be an immense job. It has to be accepted that what was there is gone. Wiped out. 'Fix-it' isn't going to bring it back. Don't waste time quibbling about it. Take a blank sheet and start over right now.

The biggest reconstruction job in the history of the United States will make a lot of people rich, and the country will become a lot richer for making the effort. Except for the dead there could be benefits for everybody.

So long as there is the imagination to DO IT. Mobilize now.

And when it's finished, try to remember that there are places in Africa in states just as sorry. Places devastated by nature.


From Emma in Belgium (yes, she used to be Paris, and yes, she's Australian) –


Sadly watching the awfulness of the Katrina situation from a deluxe presidential aircraft will not mean a thing to Bush and his bunch of fellow assholes.

This is yet again a blindingly obvious example of the total ineptness, isolated "head-in-the-sand" (or is it water?) position vis-a-vis the common man and the overall ignorance of the present American government towards the American populace at large.

And yet... Will this finish Bush and his henchmen? Well there certainly won't be any resignations from the so-called CEO and his bunch or prize pet prats.

Naturally the swarms of inane right-wing religious nutters of the so-called finest country in the world which perceives itself as being the best country globally to set an example in all manner of things (Emergency Rescue Operations being an excellent example - no wonder Iraq is a shit-hole these days) will prevail and win the day in supporting Bush and his team.

Oh and another thing. Surely those terrified, hungry, and thirsty folk (majority being black - what happened to equality, human rights, respect for ones' fellow man - indeed the Good Samaritan is surely a tale which Bush is at this very moment doing his best to emulate) scrambling around in the depths of hopelessness in New Orleans could at least be offered a bed at the White House n'est-ce pas?

It would make a pleasant change to see the White House full of real people.

Finally, one last thought. Maybe America really now needs its own revolution a la francaise across the whole country to shake everyone up and lead the country to a far closer picture of its own ideals.


Well, maybe the revolution start today, in New Orleans, with Bush being run out of town by the angry mobs - those mobs singing La Marseillaise (they do use a form of French down that way) –


Allons ! Enfants de la Patrie !

Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Contre nous de la tyrannie,

L'étendard sanglant est levé !

Aux armes, citoyens !

But that seems unlikely.

Emma replies - "Surely enough Americans will take to the streets now and demand that Bush be pushed?"

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta: "Reminds me of a dream I had the other night; it was all about flying pigs."

Then Rick adds this:


I realize that sounded pretty curt. Sorry.

What I meant was that I doubt all those people who voted for Bush are now angry at him about anything at all, and surely not enough to get off their overstuffed Barco-loungers to take to the cul-de-sacs. Even as he was winning that reelection, after all, polls showed most people disagreed with his positions on almost everything.
Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of people in this country who would like to see George Bush humbled, but when they peer into his face in hopes of spotting actual contrition about something, they always come up empty. Much of his strength, I think, can be traced to the fact that he was born without a single humble gene in his whole genome, and I doubt he will ever grow a new one before the day he dies.


Perhaps so.

Actually in the news Friday there was some evidence for Rick's contention.

Jeffrey Dubner here quotes the president saying this (linking to the actual White House transcript):


The good news is - and it's hard for some to see it now - that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house - there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)


Dubner: "I never thought anybody could respond to a tragedy with something more inappropriate and out of touch than Michael Dukakis' rejoinder to the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife, but there you have it."

Then Dubner points to Ezra Klein's readers providing hypothetical historical counterparts:


All of the citizens of New York will have a glorious new Starbucks. Did I mention I love my cappuccino?

The good news - and this is hard for some to see after the Hindenburg - is that the blimps of tomorrow will be even more spectacular. They will be twice as big and travel twice as far and be filled with methane. I'm looking forward to producing some of that methane myself.

The good news is - and it's hard for some to see it now - that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Chicago, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Mrs. O'Leary's barn - she's lost her entire barn - there's going to be a fantastic barn. And I'm looking forward to setting the lantern down by her cow. (Laughter.)


Rick is not alone, it seems, and Rick has more comment:


BUSH: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Obviously he never heard of "Hurricane Pam"? Actually, this hypothetical Category-3 storm that directly hits New Orleans, a "tabletop" study that was still being worked on when Katrina roared through, didn't "breach" the levees, but effectively did the same by pushing water OVER them, thusly flooding the city, killing an untold number and stranding folks on top of houses. This levee scenario has been on the minds of everyone who seriously looked at this issue over the years.

Regarding Chertoff: I heard this on All Things Considered! It was amazing!



[ROBERT] SIEGEL: We are hearing from our reporter, and he's on another line right now, thousands of people at the Convention Center in New Orleans with no food. Zero.

CHERTOFF: I am telling you we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging. And, uh, you know, the one thing about an episode like this is, if you talk to someone and you get a rumor, where you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place. [In this case only, bold emphasis mine -- Rick]


SIEGEL: But Mr. Secretary, when you say that, uh, we shouldn't listen to rumors, these are things coming from reporters who have not only cover many many other hurricanes, but who have covered wars and refugee camps. These are rumors? They're seeing 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. I can tell you that specifically the Superdome, which was designated staging area for a large number of evacuees, does have food and water and that we have teams putting food and water out at other designated staging areas.


SIEGEL: And our reporter said two thousand people at the Convention Center, without anything.

CHERTOFF: I understand and I can't argue with you about what your reporter tells you...


But yes, this story was tagged out with mention that Chertoff's spokeswoman later called to say he had since become aware of this Convention Center situation, and they were now working on it.

Regarding FEMA Director Mike Brown's comments, I did hear him mention somewhere (CNN? NPR?) something like "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..." But they way I heard it was "...those who chose not to leave the city, and those that couldn't..." When the interviewer called him on it, he sort of backed away from the first part.

Regarding Dennis Hastert: "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level... It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

Had this particular brand of forward-thinking existed when New York mostly burned down during the Revolutionary War, as did Washington during the War of 1812, and Atlanta in the Civil War, and Chicago in the 1870s, or about San Francisco when it fell down in 1906, we'd never be able to see those cities alive and doing so well today.

The most articulate answer to Hastert's pessimistic "bulldozer solution" I've heard so far comes from New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, that city's official cultural ambassador, on NPR's Morning Edition today (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4829486). At the moment, he's a refugee in Baton Rouge. It should be noted that he was apparently not speaking specifically to what Hastert said, although he might just as well have been:

"I mean, we have to rebuild, we have to move forward; cities must be resilient if we're going to show the resilience of our country ... we don't have that option as Americans to look at ANY part of our country in a sense of abandonment ... but this country has endured many things, and the world has also, and, you know, this is another major catastrophe that we are going to have to deal with, and we'll have to endure."

What's with these people?

All I can believe is that conservative politicians, by and large, get somewhat nervous whenever a local catastrophe occurs that calls for help from the community at large. I always imagine that, within their brains, there's this little prancing elf, tap-dancing on the precipice, resisting with all its might the temptation to let forth with another inappropriate lecture on the virtues of "individual responsibility".

"No, now is not the time," they seem to be cautioning themselves, "at least not so soon before the upcoming election."


From Bob Patterson, known to readers here as the World's Laziest Journalist:


I just read one comment where she said the politicians are congratulating each other for a job well done.

As I was reading that, I had the TV on and two governors and the POTUS were congratulating each other on a job being well done.

Who am I supposed to believe - some lady that lives in another country or the President of the United States who was elected by the largest number of votes ever?

What's with this story about the New Orleans police quitting?

When will the troops with the "shoot to kill" orders arrive and restore order?


Bob is referring to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco warning rioters and looters in New Orleans that National Guard troops are under her orders to "shoot and kill" to end the violence in the city. (CNN here and a spoof here: "Louisiana National Guardsmen were told they must first ask looters to see a receipt for any merchandise they might be floating down the street before shooting them. Training for Guardsmen would be provided by Wal-Mart greeters. 'If no receipt can be produced, they are to take ten steps backwards, and open fire.' Asked if this wouldn't give most looters a chance to swim away, Bush went on to the next question.) Police quitting? See this from the Associated Press wire: "New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday as corpses lay abandoned in street medians, fights and fires broke out, cops turned in their badges and the governor declared war on looters who have made the city a menacing landscape of disorder and fear."

Bob asks who is he supposed to believe. He knows the answer. He likes being a scattershot provocateur. He drifted from the original question.

Actually there is an answer to the original question. What's with these people?

It's in their approach to what government is supposed to do, even if it were more competent and informed than it seems to be this week.

Grover Norquist is clear - "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Clear enough. That blunt statement is not new. You will find that comment and more here, in The Nation, April 26, 2001. That was discussed in these pages here a year ago, but in regard to the debate about killing the Social Security program. Guess what? New Orleans is the bathtub. (Illustrated here.)

See Kevin Drum again - Ideology and Real Life


Conservatives fundamentally believe in a limited role for the federal government. They believe in downsizing, privatizing, and placing greater reliance on state and local government to provide essential services. It's easy - too easy - to blame George Bush in hindsight for specific things like cutting the Corps of Engineers budget for the New Orleans district, but the reason this criticism is legitimate is because this wasn't merely a specific incident. As even some conservatives tacitly admit, it was a direct result of George Bush's governing ideology.

... Liberals, by contrast, believe in a robust role for the federal government. We believe in sharing risk nationwide for local disasters. We believe that only the federal government is big enough to coordinate relief on the scale needed by an event like Katrina, and that strong, well-managed agencies like FEMA should take the lead role in making this happen.

Both of these governing philosophies are defensible, but too often they seem like nothing more than opposing sides in an intellectual game. Katrina demonstrates otherwise. It's what happens when a drowning city runs smack into a conservative movement that believes in drowning the federal government in a bathtub.


He does note that some conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan disagree:


Real conservatives believe that the state should do a few things that no one else can do - defense, decent public education, police, law and order among the most obvious - and leave the rest to individuals. Funding FEMA and having a superb civil defense are very much part of conservatism's real core.


But there is the evidence to argue against that. As noted elsewhere, FEMA was reduced to one part of a larger department, Homeland Security, and lost its cabinet access, and then had its budget cut again and again. Is the Norquist governing ideology somehow not "real" conservatism?

That is quibbling about labels. Since the Reagan days of "government is evil" and "less is best" and all that, the country has moved steadily in that direction - buying into that governing ideology which posits, in its purist form, that we lose our personal freedom when we act as a community, that "individual responsibility" is the core virtue in a free society, and helping others causes great harm to them, by allowing those who are helped assume they are owed something and destroying their initiative. Who wants a nation of lazy, whining victims, telling you that you owe them something?

If that is so, then this is what you get. Sullivan sees a middle ground. Some things require a sense of community, and other things do not.

What's with these people? They see no middle ground, and only act when they are shamed into acting. And still they resent it.




Footnote on Rick's comment: "This levee scenario has been on the minds of everyone who seriously looked at this issue over the years."


See this -


Newspaper That Had Warned Of Disaster Lives Own Prophecy

Joe Hagan – The Wall Street Journal - August 31, 2005; Page A5


Three years ago, the New Orleans Times-Picayune won journalism awards for an exhaustive five-part series called "Washing Away," which began with the words: "It's only a matter of time before south Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day." 


The whole Times-Picayune series is available here.  Many people are reading it now.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....