Monday, September 05, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

"The Horror! The Horror!" Kurtz's last words, according to Marlow, civilization's witness in Heart of Darkness, rang through my ears last week as New Orleans devolved following Hurricane Katrina. Worse horrors litter the world's history, of course, but the crash into dystopia of New Orleans while explicable is shocking, even incomprehensible. That is until one sees it as an extension of Bushy and the Republicans' war on the cities, the poor and disadvantaged, especially people of color. The devolution of New Orleans is also a reflection of the Bushies' fundamental incompetence--the same incompetence that failed to heed abundant warnings prior to September 11, 2001, and prior to invading Iraq.

The Bushies, who like to proclaim that they are so omnipotent that they create their own reality, this time faced a hurricane powerful enough to transform reality and smash and wash away the fantasies of the ignorant. Or so I hope. Unfortunately, the Bushies' capacity for delusional thinking seems limitless, as does their ignorance.

The Bushies certainly share top billing with Katrina for the demise of New Orleans. (The New York Times' Frank Rich is good on this issue.) New Orleans happened, too, because of the long American habit of sealing people off from nature, of channelizing rivers, indeed of believing that maginot lines of levees, spillways, pumping stations, damns, and the like can save humans from the wrath of nature--god, if you will. The situation is complex, to be sure, but I suggest it can be viewed through this paradox: the Army Corps of Engineers and every other person who looked even slantwise at the New Orleans levee system knew it would not surprise more than a middling category 3 storm and put forth ambitious plans for improvements--the Bushies cut the money--but no one planned for what to do when a levee failed and the pumps wouldn't work. By its own admission, the Corps didn't have in place a way to detect leaks much less patch them.

We'd already been surprised here in Miami Beach and the rest of Miami-Dade and Monroe County, when the newly minted Hurricane Katrina took a turn southwest after coming ashore about 15 miles up the coast from us. By then, our power and telephone landlines were down, so we did what people have always done in hurricanes--sat through it.

By Sunday, we were back in the computer age and seeing through the National Hurricane Center and associated sites that Katrina meant trouble in the Gulf. Monday morning, as reports came in that the storm was making landfall, I asked a few people what they thought would happen were it to render New Orleans uninhabitable. Not happening, they said.

A certain smugness colored initial reports on the storm, as journalists, politicians, citizens, and even weather forecasters celebrated that the hurricane had spared New Orleans or New Orleans had once more escaped, as if either storm or city had volition. Forgotten was the National Hurricane Center's favorite caveat: A hurricane is not a spot on a map; it is a massive, destructive storm. Indeed, there were reports that night of a breached levee that was allowing water from Lake Pontchartrain to drain into the city, not to stop till it found its depth. Some reporters and officials still treat the hurricane and flood as separate events. They were not. Emergency teams should have already been on the way; they were not. The Corps should have been scrambling to close the breach; even if it was, it had not a clue how to do it.

I won't rehash here what's been ably reported, most notably by the Los Angeles Times. arguably the best paper in the country today. It was horrifying to watch. But it has become increasingly clear that either out of malice or incocmpetence or both, the Bushies were complicit in letting the situation degenerate. They had ignored warnings for years and gutted FEMA, as the LA Times reports today.

More significant, again from today's LAT, citing the heroic New Orleans Times-Picayune, Max Mayfield and his staff at the National Hurricane Center briefed (3rd entry down) FEMA head Michael D. Brown and Homeland Insecurity secretary Michael Chertoff while Katrina was gathering strength in the Gulf that the storm meant big trouble and that its storm surge could top New Orleans's levees--precisely what appears to have happened. They mobilized no one. Bushy and company will shift blame and probably escape thorough and serious investigation as they did after 9/11 and have thus far after the war crime that is Iraq, and I'll have more about that later.

For now, I would suggest that if New Orleans is to be rebuilt, and for psychological and political reasons, it will be, it should become a model city in a globally warmed world, one fitted to its environment. Build up, build with canals. Take down the worthless levees. Rechannelize the Mississippi. People thrown into dire circumstances reverted to foraging, which in our urbanized world means "looting"; now let those who want to stay or live in New Orleans try a new way of living in an eco-Venice.

That's not likely to happen under the watch of the Bushies, but we can hope that this debacle will make him the second president in U.S. history to resign, taking his vice and the entire government with him, so that an extraordinary special election follows. Problem then is, who among this gang of feebs can lead.

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