Sunday, September 04, 2005

I TRY TO WALK AWAY AND I FIND THE POLICE HAVE SEALED THE ONLY BRIDGE OUT OF NEW ORLEANS AND ARE REFUSING TO LET ANYONE OUT

While the leadership of the country might have struggled to rise to the events in New Orleans, it's only fair to record that there were thousands and thousands of ad hoc, low level, personal responses to the disaster - not all of them thawrted by police with guns treating would-be rescuers like criminals; the America we know and love is far better represented by this picture of Macy Gray flying across from LA, arriving in Houston at five in the morning, and wading in:



Than this one, which might have been Bush flying over the devastation - but, frankly, you've only got their word for that:



And as the reaction to Kanye West's comments continues to bounce about the blogs, it might be worth asking how it is that NBC could organise a telethon before the US government could even start to organise its response.

Amongst the Kanye-reactions comes The Pop Culture Petri Dish which recalls an earlier statement from West:

The concept of AIDS alone -- my parents always told me ... that it's just a man-made disease in the first place that was placed in Africa just like crack was placed in the black community to break up the Black Panther party.

This quote seems to be populating itself through weblogs like a rash right now - we're guessing it's an attempt to somehow "discredit" West and mark him out as a dangerous, race obsessed lunatic - it doesn't, of course, and it does nothing to engage with his central charge: the people in New Orleans who were left to die were left to die because they were poor/black/didn't matter.

Eticketride attempts to analyse Wests' comments, and gets a little lost:

And I'm sorry that things haven't quite worked out to your personal satisfaction. Fucking moron.

They then stick on an animated smiley making what we believe is a 'loser' sign, which pretty much sums up the level of where their political analysis was always going to end up.

The IFC blog seizes the moment for what it was:

Myers stands awkwardly by, and hilariously continues on the teleprompter. A great television moment — how often do you see celebrities act like raw, upset, actual human beings on-air these days?

It's also only fair to mention here that there was equal anger and outrage expressed - shockingly - on Fox News on Friday night. By Fox News' own staff; more usually seen rah-rah the White House's every move. We suspect the right might find it a little more tricky to find Shep Smith and Geraldo Rivera quotes where they've been taking a Black panther line in the past. It might be the most unlikely TV moment of the year.

If you're looking for ways to help, it might be worth checking out the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which has launched a pair of funds - one to help with New Orleans residents displaced to Baton Rouge, the other to help with restoring infrastructure in Greater New Orleans.


16 comments:

Walt said...

I'm not a political analyst. I'm just some guy with an opinion. We're probably never going to agree on this and that's okay. Public figures (including Bush) should be held to a higher standard then those with "smaller voices" and they should be held accountable for what they do and say. There is a time and place for everything and I find that what Kanye did was extremely opportunistic and irresponsible. He obviously does not have the mental fortitude to stand in front of a camera and do his job without letting his personal feelings get in the way.

Anonymous said...

This was Kanye's time and place. Of course it was opportunistic, when else was he going to get a platform to say people are dying and gosh, most of them are black and poor.
What are you going to say about celine dion then or is it OK because she's white?
You miserable excuse for a human being.
Glingle

simon h b said...

I can understand what you're saying, but... you really think that there's something wrong with a Network claiming it's got people making personal appeals for help, and then to cut them off when they actually start to really give their personal views and don't stick "to the script [they were] given."

I'm sorry, but sometimes you have to be blunt, and at least Kanye West has forced the media to start acknowledging what was obvious from the pictures but not from the commentary watching US TV feeds here: nearly all the faces you saw crammed in the queues and begging for help on the top of buildings were black. Now, you might disagree about the why, but at least Kanye West has forced people to ask the question.

Karl said...

There's certainly going to be plenty of blame to go around for the response to Katrina. However, as folks the UK may be less familiar with the structure of the US gov't, I thought I should note that the failures involve not only the national government, but also state and city government.

For example, the power to order an evacuation of New Orleans rests with the Mayor of the city. He didn't order it until President Bush leaned on him to do it. The disaster plan linked above also makes local officials responsible for evacuating the poor and disabled. In this case, the city has at least 364 buses it could have planned to use to evacuate the needy; it failed to do so. At the link, you'll also see a picture of about 250 school buses that could have been used, but were not. Those buses could have taken tens of thousands of people to safety. A 20-year-old man commandeered a bus, which was more effective than his local government provided.

That's not to say that the Bush Administration should escape its share of the blame for things it has screwed up; the Washington Post has a lengthy article on them today. However, at the end of the article, it is noted that the "federal plan advises state and local emergency managers not to expect federal aid for 72 to 96 hours, and base their own preparedness efforts on the need to be self-sufficient for at least that period."

It might be argued that this is a bad policy, but keep in mind that the area declared to be a disaster -- not just New Orleans, but along the Gulf of Mexico -- is an area roughly the size of Britain itself. Bush declared these areas as such even before Katrina hit land to pre-position aid and supplies, but one obviously cannot know where and how they are best directed until shortly before the hurricane strikes land. The reason local governments are put in charge initially is that they have better means of getting people out of an area before the fact than the feds have of bringing in aid over flooded streets and demolished bridges after the fact.

Again, I don't want to come off as cheerleading for Bush here. In particular, the leadership at the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not seemed up to their jobs in this worst-case scenario (though they handled other prior hurricanes like Charley okay). But the national media tends to focus on the national government, which I think may give people -- especially people in other countries -- an incomplete view of this problem. Kanye West can spout about Bush not caring for blacks, but the Mayor of New Orleans is black -- and a Democrat, yet the city evacuation plan was pathetic.

I think it's important (for Americans, anyway) to understand this, because the problems won't get fixed unless they are properly diagnosed. For the moment, however, it's more important that all levels of the US gov't get things right with regard to the problems we still face -- reintegrating those displaced by Katrina, environmental clean-up in New Orleans, etc.

Walt said...

Celine was asked point blank by the host of the freekin' show, what is her opinion of the rescue efforts. Or are you not able to distinguish a talk show from a telethon? Perhaps you're unable to differentiate flying off the handle from a solicited response? I have NOT ONCE made ANY reference to Kanye's skin color or race... EVER. I find that the people who whine about racism the most are truly the biggest bigots of them all. I never said that the US response was adequate. I said Kanye is a tool and so are you.

By the way, Larry King is a tool too. But that's another story. And for the record, he's white.

Think. Don't hate.

karl said...

Three post-scripts:
1. One reason most of those seen on TV trapped in New Orleans are black is because the city is predominantly black. As of this moment, the wonderful (and white) Alex Chilton is still missing because he stayed in the city, not because Bush doesn't care about black people. The also wonderful (and black) Allen Toussaint got out and went to NYC, which again had nothing to do with Bush. As for the poor and disabled, Kanye might want to ask the Mayor of N.O. about the buses I noted above.

2. Moreover, as noted in the main post, the anger and frustration in this case is shared by the Geraldos and Shep Smiths. Kanye's outburst, however, will tend to divide people at the moment we should be trying to work together. As for the anonymous comment that asks when else Kanye would get a platform, the answer is : just about any time he wants. It's very easy for celebrities like Kanye to get a platform to say anything they want. The fact that his theory about AIDS is so easy to find on the Internet proves the point.

3. Kanye did have one legit complaint about the Associated Press labeling photos as showing "looting" when the subject was black and not using the word "looting" when the subjects were white. But Bush doesn't run the Associated Press, so lumping these complaints together suggests that his comment was not well thought out.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Blanco declared a State of Emergency on August 26th. at which point, due the Bush Administration's reorganisation of FEMA/DHS (as of March 2005, fact-fans), FEMA became the people in charge, and thus bear ultimate responsibility (their press release confirming this).

So, FEMA were supposedly in charge. Until Friday, what they had achieved was: turning back convoys of Wal-Mart trucks loaded with water, preventing the Red Cross from entering the area, sealing people in the Convention Centre, cutting through the emergency communication lines of Jefferson Parish, oh, and staging photo-operations for Bush, including a lovely set of pictures at a levee-restructuring operation. An operation which was then dismantled as soon as the camera left.

And FEMA's current line of "it was unforeseen to have two natural disasters!" is one of the most disgraceful things I've ever seen public officials say.

But don't worry, because I hear Trent Lott's new house is going to be awesome.

Anonymous said...

Also, from watching the NBC broadcast, it's clear that Kanye was not thinking with what you'd call a clear head - it was overflowing frustration with the casual racism of America, where white people 'find' and black 'loot', that there were people dying in worse than third-world conditions and the government appeared to be happy to let them rot. That the President of the United States decided to joke around with a Senator who said that Strom Thurmond would have made a great President while 30,000 people were packed in the Superdome, and FEMA didn't even fucking know that the Convention Centre was full of thousands until the press told them! Five years of bile, starting from the fun of Florida in 2000, and ending with watching people being apparently abandoned by their government…

…I think if anything, he was too light on Bush. Hell, even a Democrat Senator has threatened to punch him if he holds another press conference...

simon h b said...

Karl - just a quicky on point one: New Orleans isn't "predominately" black; only 65% of the population were counted as black at the last census. Certainly, a much, much higher proportion - more than two thirds - of those left behind were black.

karl said...

I was already aware of the pdf linked above. Blanco declared a state of emergency on the 26th for the purpose of requesting money. She did not cede control over the National Guard; nothing in her declaration says it does, either. To the contrary, the declaration required her to say that the state preparedness plan was being implemented. But the mandatory evacuation order was not made until days later, as I noted and linked above (and I'll add that National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield in Miami called Nagin at home last Saturday night, begging him to do it, too).

In fact, Blanco rejected a federal takeover Saturday, too. Moreover, while complaining that she needs more troops, she called up only half of the La. Nat'l Guard available. She didn't commandeer school buses until September 1st. The fact that she did commandeer them also shows that she still has responsibility for the situation.

As for my first postscript, the fact that you don't think a city that is 65% black is a reason why most of the people seen there would be black is a testament to how much some want to place the entirety of the blame on the feds. I'm sure a higher portion of those left behind may have been black. But who left them behind? Some want to claim Bush did, but the local and federal plans say this is a local responsibility. And Blanco's request for cash didn't change that one bit.

The reason why these are local duties is precisely because it is much easier to get people evacuated with local assets than it is to try to aid people trapped in a flood after the fact.

As for FEMA's current line of "it was unforeseen to have two natural disasters!" being "disgraceful," I would point people to a story originally from The New York Times, which reported that )"disaster experts and frustrated officials said a crucial shortcoming may have been the failure to predict that the levees keeping Lake Pontchartrain out of the city would be breached, not just overflow."

Or as former President Clinton told a finger-pointer on CNN:
"I'm telling you, nobody thought this was going to happen like this. But what happened here is they escaped -- New Orleans escaped Katrina. But it brought all the water up the Mississippi River and all into Pontchartrain, and then when it started running and that levee broke, they had problems they never could have foreseen."

But Bill Clinton is no doubt under the influence of Trent Lott and Karl Rove and their secret DARPA mind-contol devices.

BTW, you'll note that in my first post, I twice noted that FEMA appeared to have screwed things up and that Bush should take whatever share of the blame is due him. However, based on the responses I have seen here and elsewhere, it seems as though some people are more interested in scoring political points against Bush than they are in determining who had what duties and assessing the blame on that basis. If people refuse to also look at the failures of the state and local governments here, such failures are more likely to be repeated in the next disaster or terror attack. I think preventing that from happening is more important than bashing Bush, but obviously people are free to disagree.

karl said...

And if you're collecting disgraceful statements, try this one regarding the use of the Superdome for shelter:

"The people arriving on this side of the building are expected to fend for themselves," said Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security director. "We have some water."

Ian Snappish said...

The distinction between the overtopping of the levees and an actual breach is an interesting way the adminstration is trying to play it; last year during the Hurricane Pam simulation, the effects of the hurricane were limited to overtopping, and yet, the results were the same as what happened last week, so they should have been ready for it.

The Washington Post article makes a factual error on the first page (about Blanco not declaring an emergency - and this is direct from the Administration, according to the quote), and the Ledger article states that the levees broke on Tuesday, when in fact they started on Monday morning.

While I think Blanco and Nagin do deserve some criticism for not preparing the Superdome properly, and yes, using those buses for evacuation instead of bussing to the dome, the fact that FEMA prevented the Red Cross from entering the area for, what, four, five days, is completely unforgivable.

ian

simon h b said...

Karl,

I've said before that I disagree with Kanye - I think the people were abanonded by the president because they were poor, not because they were black.

And, yeah, I would imagine that if the pain was equally shared amongst all residents of the city, you would see a large number of black faces in the crowds of dispossesed as a result of there being a 65% black population - I'd imagine that under those circumstances, there would be roughly two-thirds black people. But there wasn't, the crowds were almost entirely black, which suggests they were taking a disproportionate hit. Which reflects, of course, the disproportionate hit the New Orleans black residents take from poverty.

Perhaps you're right that now isn't the time to be looking to apportion blame - but since FEMA, the administration and DHS are happy to constantly hold press conference and photo op after press conference and photo op to try and demonstrate how great they've been doing, I'd say that it's probably appropriate to at least remember where some of the blame lays.

Sure, there were mistakes made at local level, at city level, and at State level. But to suggest that it's wrong to hold Bush and FEMA responsible because of bureaucratic humbug is just, I'm afraid, not good enough.

Maybe there is some arcane ritual of engagement that is supposed to be gone through.

But if you're walking down the street holding an axe, and see people locked in a burning house screaming to be rescued, you don't piss about phoning the landlord for permission to chop down the door.

If Bush really was desperate to help, but was afraid to send in forces without being formally asked first by a governor or a mayor, then he's incapable of making a firm decision, and not worthy of the office.

If he wasn't that bothered, he's not worthy of the office.

If he hadn't cut back the spending on the levee scheme so drastically, it probably wouldn't have stopped the levees giving way. But it might have seen them hold for longer.

If he hadn't directed 3000 members of LA national guard off to build a theocracy in Iraq, it wouldn't have stopped New Orleans from being inundated. But the rescue effort might have run more smoothly, and much faster, with those extra local people, with local knowledge, working amongst their neighbours.

If he hadn't reversed Clinton's protection against development on the wetlands, it wouldn't have stopped Katrina. But it might have reduced the effects a little.

If he had kept America's word when it signed the Kyoto protocol, it wouldn't have stopped the hurricane season. But it might have played a small role in reducing the temperature of the oceans off the coast of Africa, and made Katrina just a little bit less wild.

The bottom line: Bush was off doing that goofy guitar photo-op and Republican Party fundraisers while perhaps thousands of his countrymen were drowning in their own homes; dying of thirst on an interstate bridge; being locked in a building full of shit, and death, and fear, and rape. This isn't about using Katrina as a stick to beat out the normal political message with, and it's insulting to the thousands who died to suggest that people's anger at their slow, agonising deaths during the inaction of the executive last week is motivated from their default political opinions. You really think we shouldn't criticise the man who hyuk-hyuked his way through press conferences, who smirked his way across photo-ops last week?

You really think that the Commander-in-chief who could have given the order "Go and rescue those people" but instead gave quotes about how he's sure the folks will pull through doesn't deserve the strongest condemnation?

tomsk said...

Well said. If nothing else, lets hope this tragedy reminds Americans to be a little pickier in choosing its next president, for their own sake as well as the rest of the world.

Ian Snappish said...

I've heard that Alex C has been found, as well...

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