Free-Floating Hostility

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Politics of Suffering

We are without cable for two weeks as a result of the move, so I'm mostly spared the non-stop coverage of Hurricane Katrina. We spent Friday night/Saturday morning at a hotel in the South Bay, so I had my first real taste of how heartbreaking the scene is. There are over-the-top moments, like the CNN reporter doing a phone interview with a woman who has lost everything that degenerating into them talking over each other as he suggested ways to get help and she said it was impossible. It's fairly heartbreaking stuff.

I have lost patience with the line of argument that holds the Katrina evacuation in New Orleans was bungled because the victims were all going to be poor, black and descended from the French. It's a simplistic argument, and, to borrow a concept from Fritz, it ascribes malevolence as a motive where simple incompetence will do.

But maybe it's not fair to call the spectacular failure to evacuate people from the Crecent City incompetence because, really, the government acted exactly how the president and his allies wanted it to. It did nothing. For people who don't believe government affects their lives, understand that the suffering in New Orleans is a direct consequence of the current adminstration's governing priorities. Don't misread what I'm saying and think I believe that Republicans everywhere are rejoicing at the corpses on the streets in NOLA. But I do think the GOP needs to be held accountable for the human cost of its ideology. Governing has conseqences.

An administration determined to slash domestic spending so it can wage war and give rich people tax cuts is doomed to reactivity. With storms, to a certain extent, reaction is unavoidable, but watching the news reports out of New Orleans, one is left with the impression that there were no plans for what to do in case a hurricane hit (I mean let's play the probabilities, it only happens four times a fucking year). Bush is disingenous when he told Diane Sawyer, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." This is from an Associated Press story slugged "The Big One," which Aug. 28, about 24 hours before Katrina hit land in the Gulf

Experts have warned for years that the levees and pumps that usually keep New Orleans dry have no chance against a direct hit by a Category 5 storm. ... Experts have also warned that the ring of high levees around New Orleans, designed to protect the city from floodwaters coming down the Mississippi, will only make things worse in a powerful hurricane. Katrina is expected to push a 28-foot storm surge against the levees. Even if they hold, water will pour over their tops and begin filling the city as if it were a sinking canoe.

Of course, the president doesn't read newspapers because of the media filter. If he had, he would have seen the five-part series in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2002 discussing the very real danger the city was in from a direct hit from a hurricane like Katrina.

The unifying principle of the party in power is that government should exist only to wage war, protect property and stop abortion. This is a legitimate political viewpoint. It's not mine because I believe it demands a very narrow definition of cause and effect that strikes me as intellectually dishonest. If a hole in the atmosphere at the fucking south pole is contributing to skin cancer in the northern hemisphere, then the only conclusion is that nothing in the world is self contained. The wiping out of New Orleans drove up my gas prices in California. The loss of Mardi Gras will cost depressing perverts their "Girls Gone Wild" tapes next year. It's all connected.

I hope the people displaced are able to return home or restart their lives as necessary. But when we start apportioning blame, let's understand that failure in government doesn't have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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