Saturday, September 3, 2005

Beneath the Surface

In case you’ve forgotten, Miami was the first place Hurricane Katrina struck when it was just a Category 1 storm. At work all of the conversations this past week began with “How long were you without power?” and ended with “Compared to the Gulf Coast, we got nothing.” There are still signs of damage here — stop lights out, huge piles of dead trees waiting to be picked up, an entire city block next to the University of Miami being used as a tree-mulching collection point with a pile of chipped wood fifty feet high. There are still parts of South Dade under water. But compared to New Orleans, Gulfport, and Biloxi, we were barely touched. Even the tales of Hurricane Andrew pale in comparison. Yet the reaction of some people to the utter devastation of lives, property, and civilization in New Orleans has been very revealing. In many cases it has been wonderfully compassionate: ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help someone else — more than likely a complete stranger. But there have also been some callous, cold, and sometimes just plain ignorant people speaking out, and unfortunately, many of them are not the ordinary people who make up the vast majority of those affected by the disaster. They are people in power who have the ability to make amends, send help or tell the world just what is needed. One of the things we can do, especially those of us who dodged the bullet on Hurricane Katrina, is point out these miscreants and reveal what lies beneath the surface.

  • Maureen Dowd on the Bush administration’s response.

    It would be one thing if President Bush and his inner circle – Dick Cheney was vacationing in Wyoming; Condi Rice was shoe shopping at Ferragamo’s on Fifth Avenue and attended “Spamalot” before bloggers chased her back to Washington; and Andy Card was off in Maine – lacked empathy but could get the job done. But it is a chilling lack of empathy combined with a stunning lack of efficiency that could make this administration implode.

    When the president and vice president rashly shook off our allies and our respect for international law to pursue a war built on lies, when they sanctioned torture, they shook the faith of the world in American ideals.

    When they were deaf for so long to the horrific misery and cries for help of the victims in New Orleans – most of them poor and black, like those stuck at the back of the evacuation line yesterday while 700 guests and employees of the Hyatt Hotel were bused out first – they shook the faith of all Americans in American ideals. And made us ashamed.

    Who are we if we can’t take care of our own?

  • Fox News is shitting rainbows over how well the recovery is going.

    “After the storm, a storm — and I mean a storm! — of aid!” Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto began his broadcast on Friday afternoon, as the screen flashed with images of National Guard convoys motoring in to the broken city of New Orleans, and troops doling out food and water to victims of Hurricane Katrina. To watch a few hours of Fox on Friday was to experience reassurance, some relief that things were getting better on the Gulf Coast. While the situation may have been bleak this week, Fox’s anchors and reporters acknowledged, and while there still were some pockets where “law and order” — a Fox obsession — had not been restored, help was on the way. Or as Cavuto put it, police were “attempting to take back the city of New Orleans … as the resident [sic] of the United States takes in the damage and pours out the relief.”

    On other networks — and, more important, in reality — the president’s visit to the affected areas didn’t merit the same measure of optimism. While Guard troops were finally making their way to New Orleans, thousands of people remained stranded at the city’s convention center. Ray Nagin, New Orleans’ mayor, took to the radio to angrily denounce what he saw as the abandonment of his city by the federal authorities, an audio clip that CNN played repeatedly. And fatalities in Louisiana, some officials suggested, may reach 10,000 unless the relief effort was improved. Watching a rescue worker being lowered from a Coast Guard helicopter to rescue a woman trapped in a flooded neighborhood, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer characterized the situation this way: “One story after another, it simply doesn’t end, the horror that we’re seeing. Even though it’s the general sense today that the cavalry has arrived, in much of New Orleans the cavalry certainly has not arrived.”

  • House Speaker Hastert finally shows up:

    House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert began his day yesterday explaining that he really does not want to see New Orleans bulldozed, and he ended it defending his absence from the Capitol when Congress approved a $10.5 billion hurricane aid package. In between, a former president hinted he would like to throttle the Illinois Republican.

    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.”

    Hastert later issued a statement saying he was not “advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated.” But Louisiana Democrats were incensed. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco demanded an apology. “To kick us when we’re down and destroy hope, when hope is the only thing we have left,” she said, “is absolutely unthinkable for a leader in his position.”

    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.”

    Hastert again tried to smooth things over. Shortly after a small number of House members unanimously approved the $10.5 billion relief plan at about 1 p.m., he issued a statement saying, “Our prayers and sympathies continue to be with the victims of Hurricane Katrina. In times like these, it is more important than ever for Americans to stand united in helping our fellow citizens.”

    But there was one problem: Hastert was not in Washington, and his top lieutenants had to oversee the vote. He was in Indiana attending a colleague’s fundraiser, staff members said, and he later attended an antique car auction.

    By 4 p.m., Hastert had reached the Capitol, eager to explain his tardiness and to try again to show his solidarity with Katrina’s victims. The Indiana fundraiser, he told reporters, had been on his schedule “for a long, long time.”

    “Yes, I went to a charity auction,” Hastert continued. “I took one of my cars and sold it for tens of thousands of dollars. And that money will go to hurricane relief efforts.”

  • Some of your more compassionate Christianists really want to show the love for all mankind.

    Two Christian leaders in New Orleans are testifying to God’s mercy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One suggests that the death toll could have been much higher had it not been for God’s mercy — and the other that God may have used the hurricane to purge wickedness from the city.

    Chuck Kelley is president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, with facilities located near the southern banks of Lake Pontchartrain and in Chalmette, east of the city. Baptist Press reports that Kelley now finds himself homeless and with only a few personal belongings following Hurricane Katrina’s devastating blow to the New Orleans area. But the seminary leader says he is able to discern God’s hand in the situation.


    “New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion — it’s free of all of those things now,” Shanks says. “God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there — and now we’re going to start over again.”

    The New Orleans pastor is adamant. Christians, he says, need to confront sin. “It’s time for us to stand up against wickedness so that God won’t have to deal with that wickedness,” he says.

  • Ron Fournier of the AP sums up the Bush administration’s happy-talk.

    The Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes. The economy is booming. Anybody who leaks a CIA agent’s identity will be fired. Add another piece of White House rhetoric that doesn’t match the public’s view of reality: Help is on the way, Gulf Coast.

    As New Orleans descended into anarchy, top Bush administration officials congratulated each other for jobs well done and spoke of water, food and troops pouring into the ravaged city. Television pictures told a different story.

    “What it reminded me of the other day is ‘Baghdad Bob’ saying there are no Americans at the airport,” said Rich Galen, a Republican consultant in Washington. He was referring to Saddam Hussein’s reality-challenged minister of information who denied the existence of U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital.

    To some critics, President Bush seemed to deny the existence of problems with hurricane relief this week. He waited until Friday to acknowledged that “the results are not acceptable,” and even then the president parsed his words.


    One reason the public relations effort backfired on Bush is that Americans have seen it before.

    On Iraq alone, the rhetoric has repeatedly fallen far short of reality. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. The mission wasn’t accomplished in May 2003. Most allies avoided the hard work of his “coalition of the willing.” And dozens of U.S. soldiers have died since Vice President Dick Cheney declared that insurgents were in their “last throes.”

    Bush often touts the health of the U.S. economy, which is fair game because many indicators point in that direction. But the public doesn’t share his rosy view. The global economy had most Americans worried about job and pension security even before rising gas added to their anxieties.

    Bush’s spokesman said anybody involved in leaking the identity of a CIA agent would be fired, but no action has been taken against officials accused of doing so.

    And finally, Riggsveda at Corrente pulls together some quotes from some compassionate conservatives that will really warm the cockles of your heart…if you’re Simon Legree or Ebeneezer Scrooge. Here’s a sample:

    “But what if there really IS a correlation between race and a tendency to amoral, selfish, violent behavior? Wouldn’t it be suicidal to ignore it just because it is unpleasant that life might actually be ordered that way?

    I just feel sorry for any white people left in that city. I saw video of some white tourists walking aimlessly, dragging their suitcases behind them, looking for help. They said they hadn’t seen any police. What a nightmare…white people abandoned in a lawless city full of black people with no police in sight, and no firearms to protect themselves. You can talk all you want about how awful it is to be a racist, but they are the ones who are finding out firsthand the brutal realities of race in this country.”

    Onward and upward.