Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Reading

Andrew Remembered — Twenty years later, people of South Florida recall the day the monster struck. The Miami Herald devotes a special section to it.

Twenty years ago this week, a Category 5 chainsaw called Hurricane Andrew cut a swath of ruin like no storm before it.

More than 28,000 homes were destroyed, 107,000 damaged — a toll that made it the nation’s costliest natural catastrophe until Katrina in 2005. Fifteen people were killed in Miami-Dade alone. Dozens more died in exhausting months of clean-up. Some 180,000 were left homeless, 1.4 million without power.

The numbers don’t fully explain the impact. South Miami-Dade resembled a post-war zone for one grueling summer — tent cities, food lines, soldiers on patrol, residents packing weapons.

Andrew would strengthen building codes but send insurance rates soaring. It would force an overhaul of overwhelmed state and federal disaster agencies. It would fuel a boom in South Broward and flight from ground zero, where stress showed in spikes of divorce, murder and suicide rates.

And it would etch memories on a community — powerful, painful, even funny with the perspective of two decades. Thousands of people rode out Andrew. Kathy Stone did it in a place called Country Walk, which neighbors assured her was safe. Addi Casseus, terrified she’d never make it to high school, found strength in her parents’ stories as the family huddled together. Capt. Peter Skipp survived adrift in the maelstrom of Biscayne Bay.

In voices from the storm, a common theme emerges: To fully understand Andrew’s fury, you had to be there. But you wouldn’t want to be.

I live in an area that was very hard hit by the storm. Today you can’t tell anything happened unless you know what to look for: a sunken spot in the lawn where a large tree used to be; a black shingle roof that replaced the white tiles blown off; power lines and cables buried to avoid the hazard of fallen wires. And people speak of it as the benchmark: things are remembered as happening before or after the storm.

Obama’s (Perceived) Transformation — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the pleasure and peril of seeing the president coming out swinging.

Among the ranks of bullies, the only fair fight is the one that ends with them laughing and kicking sand. And so, no longer able to portray Obama as weak, the authors of Willie Horton, swift-boating and modern day poll-taxing have been reduced to other tactics — among them wildly yelping, “Please, Mr. President, nothing to the face.”

Arugula partisan that I am, I must admit to some glee here. Watching Obama campaign is like watching an irradiated Peter Parker spar with Flash Thompson. It is deceptively easy, for instance, to see Harry Reid’s smearing of Romney not as the unsubstantiated, unevidenced ambush that it is, but as revenge.

That way lies the abyss. I am not simply thinking of Senator Reid’s shadow war, but of the president’s. Obama’s tough guy bona fides were largely built on the expansive bombing campaign he launched against Al Qaeda, a campaign that regards due process and the avoidance of civilian casualties as indulgences.

Let us grant that the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, said to be the mastermind behind the foiled underwear bomb plot, should not much trouble us. But surely the killing of his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and the secrecy around both acts, should.

I like to think that the junior Awlaki’s (reportedly accidental) death weighs heavy on the president’s conscience. In fact that weight does nothing to change the net result — from this point forward the presidency means the right to unilaterally declare American citizens to be American enemies, and then kill them.

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama earned the G.O.P.’s mockery. Now he has earned their fear. It is an ambiguous feat, accomplished by going to the dark side, by walking the G.O.P.’s talk, by becoming the man Dick Cheney fashioned himself to be.

The Perfect City for the GOP — Will Doing at Salon on how Tampa is the best example of a city run by Tea Party politics.

Tampa is a hot urban mess, equal parts Reagan ’80s and Paul Ryan 2010s. Urban renewal projects decimated the city in the ’60s, but its current persona was forged in earnest starting three decades ago, when finance and insurance companies started moving their back-office operations there, attracted by the sunshine and low-cost labor. The 1988 bestseller “Megatrends” declared Tampa “America’s next great city.” Real estate joined the service economy as a major economic pillar, and the city embarked on a building spree, sprouting large glass towers disconnected from the city itself, a development pattern that offered little incentive to invest in things like parks, transit or walkable spaces.

This left little of the quality urbanism people now pay a premium for. And while other cities made similar mistakes, Tampa has been slow to correct theirs, stymied by tight-fisted Tea Party politics. “We look at Dallas or Houston, with all the same challenges we have; they’ve managed to start changing their patterns of development and attract the creative-class younger folks who are looking for alternatives to the suburban lifestyle,” says Steve Schukraft, the Tampa Bay area’s representative to the Congress for the New Urbanism. When you’re wistfully pining for Houston’s urban virtues, things are not going well.

Doonesbury — Stop smiling.