This week is the first anniversary of the Katrina disaster, which finally showed even the most obtusely monarchial of Bush backers that their idol had feet of clay. Back then in outrage I put several ranting collections of links about the horror, which are still worth reading, in the Dallas County Democratic Party's weekly email newsletter the Roundup (available free by signing up at their website). Only one of these got posted here at this blog, the September 12th issue's NOTES FROM UNDERWATER. Check it out again, and then I thought I'd post here more that didn't make it on line at the time:
The woman in the picture is Milvertha Hendricks, 84, who was one of the victims waiting for help at the convention center in New Orleans. A shortage of blankets led to a new emergency use for our flag. I think the founders of our country would approve.
Such massive natural disasters bring out both the best and the worst in people. With law enforcement occupied saving lives, a very few turn to robbery and rape, but most become more compassionate and helpful than in ordinary times. Victims go out of their way to help each other, and those untouched by the storm and flood reach out to help their fellow human beings.
Texas has generously accepted over two hundred and twenty thousand refugees from the Gulf catastrophe, with 120,000 in shelters (mainly in Houston and Dallas), another 100,000 in hotels, and unknown thousands staying with family, friends, or people who have volunteered to put up victims in their homes. (One of those volunteers is Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards of Waco.) This state has also been declared a disaster area because of the huge burden fleeing families have placed on our institutions as well.
On the other hand, some reactionary idiots have already begun a chorus of "blaming the victims", attacking those who did not evacuate New Orleans for causing their own plight. These heartless monsters are trying to defend their leader against charges that the National Guard could have responded more quickly if a third of it had not been overseas with its equipment, and that federal budgets for levee repair and maintenance had been cut by tens of millions for the last several years to spend on Iraq instead.
It is no coincidence that two-thirds of that city's population is African-American, that it has twice the poverty level of the rest of the country (with 40 percent of its children living in poverty), or that the astounding total of forty percent of its adult population are functionally illiterate. It was mainly the sick, the old, the poor, and the uninformed who were unable to flee before the storm, and got no help in getting out for days after the hurricane had passed.
Problems were magnified by the slowness of FEMA's response, not mobilizing buses to evacuate those without cars in advance, not accepting an offer from Amtrak to use trains instead, not processing the paperwork to allow other state National Guards to move in for days after the storm hit, and claiming not to know that thousands of people were in the Superdome without food, water, and medicine when the whole country had been watching them for days on TV.
The clueless FEMA director turned out to have been hired by an old school friend in the administration, after he was run out of his last job for incompetent administration of a horse breeder's association. The real fear is not just the thousands of bodies expected to be found as the waters recede, but that this example of failure to deal with a disaster that was predicted for years (see this National Geographic story), and warned of for days in advance, may indicate how hopeless this administration would be in taking care of the victims in case of a really major surprise attack by terrorists.
Meanwhile the Republicans in Washington march on their way unfazed by this horror. Senate leader Frist is pressing to make more tax cuts for the rich the first priority there, while Texas's Joe Barton displayed a new form of chutzpah in the Washington Post today: "Finally, he said, "if there is a silver lining in this," it will be renewed political impetus to expand oil exploration beyond the Gulf region, especially in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." As he seeks to make this tragedy an excuse for pushing his own agenda, right-wing pundits are denouncing those who criticize the sloppy government response for "exploiting the catastrophe for political purposes".
They have taken their example from the very top. U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., issued this statement about the reality of Bush's visit to her city: "But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment."
But there are still triumphs of the human spirit among ordinary people. Read this moving story about the terrible conditions in the Superdome waiting for help that didn't come, and as people died and huddled in terror, "Suddenly, incongruously, the first notes of Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, the Adagio, pierced the desperation. Samuel Thompson, 34, is trying to make it as a professional violinist. He had grabbed his instrument ... as he fled the youth hostel Sunday where he had been staying.... "These people have nothing," he said. "I have a violin. And I should play for them. They should have something.""
Come to the Labor Day Picnic on Monday, to give what we can, and to celebrate resurgent life and genuine compassion. "Verily I say unto you, Insasmuch as ye have done it unto the one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
SEPTEMBER 19: More To Be Angry About From NOLA
"Separate But Equal" Education
Looking for a Corpse to Make a Case
Power on for Bush, then off
The FEMA ice follies
SEPTEMBER 26: The Only President We've Got
"Some will say: We have to move on. I think that is what I will say the next time I am charged with murder: Let's not play the blame game. Let's not start pointing fingers. It is time to move on. It is time to make sure that more murders do not happen. Won't you join me in this national campaign against murder? God bless America." --Jon Carroll
Bush & Co.: Sabotaging The GOP?
Texas: Not A Good Photo Op
Trojan Horse: The Bush Plan for Katrina
"McClellan revealed that the White House would be teaming with NSA scientists to create a massive computer database of lesser officials around the country who could be blamed in the event of an emergency." --The Poor Man
Bush Sells Louisiana Back to the French
"When levees are flooded and hurricanes roar,
When the waters start seeping up under the door,
You'd expect the escape plans to include the poor
But this isn't that kind of song."
--New Orleans Talking Blues
One more that didn't make it here at the time -- from a most surprising source, a moving poetic tribute for the drowned city from a native of the devasted area: Epistle To Be Left In The Big Easy.