ashthomas//blog: September 2005


Sunday, September 04, 2005

Blame for New Orleans

Kanye West, Time cover-boy from a couple of week's ago and top-shelf hip-hop producer/artist, broke from the script on NBC's Hurricane relief fundraiser concert. The Washington Post has a description, but this is the money-quote:

I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help -- with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way -- and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us!

West, already getting a lot of play on my iPod, just rose in my estimation as a human being as well.

Kanye may be over-simplifying it in the way that only a pop star can, but he is right to point out that the crisis in New Orleans has highlighted what is a long standing and deep problem, not only in NO and the south, but all America, that is, the relationship between poverty and race.

My mother, babe-in-the-woods-type that she is, asked us today why it seemed like it was only black people looting etc on the news. We tried to explain that it was because it was the poor of New Orleans who had been left behind. Anne Rice says the same thing in the New York Times:

Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

The saddest part of all this is the fact that it was avoidable. Unlike the damage in Mississippi, which was caused by a natural event, the flooding of New Orleans is a result of lack of planning and financial tight-fistedness. CNN has shown that, despite what the Homeland Security Secretary claims, there have been concerns about this exact sort of scenario for years:

"That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight," [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff said.

He called the disaster "breathtaking in its surprise."

But engineers say the levees preventing this below-sea-level city from being turned into a swamp were built to withstand only Category 3 hurricanes. And officials have warned for years that a Category 4 could cause the levees to fail.


"We certainly understood the potential impact of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane" on New Orleans, Lt. General Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Thursday, Cox News Service reported.

Reuters reported that in 2004, more than 40 state, local and volunteer organizations practiced a scenario in which a massive hurricane struck and levees were breached, allowing water to flood New Orleans. Under the simulation, called "Hurricane Pam," the officials "had to deal with an imaginary storm that destroyed more than half a million buildings in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a million residents," the Reuters report said.

In 2002 the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a five-part series exploring the vulnerability of the city. The newspaper, and other news media as well, specifically addressed the possibility of massive floods drowning residents, destroying homes and releasing toxic chemicals throughout the city.

Somebody's head should roll for this cock-up. I am fully supporting the call by Juliette Kayyem at America Abroad for 9/11-style commission to look into the failures that allowed this to happen:

it would seem to me if any issue cried out for a "lessons learned" examination, it is this. There will be bi-partisan teaming to go around. When the immediate nightmare is over (anyone else not in the Hurricane's wake having problems sleeping this week?), and the more long-term nightmare begins, I never thought I'd say this, but, we should be pushing for an independent commission.

Also of interest is the New Yorker's coverage of the disaster, with essays by Nicholas Lemann and David Remnick, amongst others.

Bush Gets Second Chance to Mess with SCOTUS

George W. Bush has received his second chance at messing with the Supreme Court of the United States today with news of the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The Bush Administration's jurisprudential legacy will last deep into the twenty-first century, with Bush able to set the agenda for years to come by nominating another conservative judge to the court, as well as choose the next Chief Justice. Reuters says,

As chief justice, Rehnquist pushed the closely divided nine-member court to the right, and President George W. Bush was expected to use the opening to continue his own drive to add conservative voices to the judiciary.

The bad news out of the U.S. just continues.

The American Interest debuts

Francis Fukuyama's new journal of foreign policy analysis, The American Interest, is now up and running. The inaugural issue looks good, with an interview with Condoleezza Rice, and articles by Robert D. Kaplan, Owen Harries, Zbigniew Brzezinski and a symposium full of notable contributors.

Unfortunately, they are all locked up behind the subscribers-only gateway, with only an abstract or opening paragraph available. I will have to look into whether Borders plans on stocking it or whether I should invest in a subscription.

Of more immediate use, however, is their blog AI cont'd, which despite the silly name (it sounds like the sequel to the Spielberg robot movie) looks to be interesting. The first few posts have obviously been introductory as well as dealing with the crisis on the Gulf Coast, and the posters seem witty and intelligent. Their recommended links are extensive, although their designer should try to remember that magazines and sites that begin with the word "The" (e.g. The Atlantic) shouldn't be listed alphabetically with the Ts.

AI, as it seems to want to be called, is definitely positioning itself as hawkish centrist. In the first AI cont'd post, the writer acknowledges that while AI will be open to a range of political ideas, they also recognise where their audience's politics lie: "It’s probably fair to say that there aren’t many Michael Moore fans among the AI family, nor many Patrick Buchanan fans either." It should be an interesting site to keep an eye on.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hurricane damage reports

I was very sad to read this, from American Association of Museums, but it could have been a lot worse:

Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis's home (as of 9-2). The Clarion Ledger reported on 8-31 that Beauvoir, located in Biloxi, was 'virtually demolished.' George Malvaney reported that he visited Beauvoir on the evening of 8-31. He said the bottom floor of the house was gone, the upstairs badly damaged, but that many artifacts were intact. He said artifacts have been temporarily secured. On 9-1 Greg Biggs reported from Larry McCluney that approximately 65% of the main house still stands, although the porch, windows, doors, columns, & front porch are gone. The first floor of the library is gone, but Davis's papers had been moved upstairs and survived. The small home where Davis resided survived. Other buildings, such as the gift shop, are gone.

Louisiana State Museum (as of 9-2). Kacey Hill, Public Information Director, states that early reports indicate that the Louisiana State Museum's 9 historic French Quarter properties have sustained varying degrees of modest to severe damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Curatorial staff has conducted a preliminary survey of both facilities and collections for immediate stabilization purposes. Continuing assessment of conditions is underway, but it is too soon to fully realize the extent of the site repairs and collection treatment needed. Museum officials have received numerous calls from other institutions offering assistance, and look forward to accepting these generous offers in the weeks and months ahead.

New Orleans Museum of Art (as of 9-2). The Times-Picayune reports on 8-31 that the New Orleans Museum of Art survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath without significant damage. Six NOMA security & maintenance employees had remained on duty during the hurricane. FEMA wanted them to move to a safer location, but there was no way to secure the artwork inside so the staff continues to stay on site. Museum workers had taken down some pieces in the sculpture garden before the storm, but a towering modernist sculpture by Kenneth Snelson was reduced to a twisted mess in the lagoon. The Wall Street Journal reported on 9-2 that the climate-control system was operating at half-power on a backup generator. The museum may relocate some of its more fragile works, if generator fuel can't be obtained soon.

Last night we were finally able to make telephone contact with my in-laws. Everyone is alive and safe, however my wife's parent's house has been irreparably damaged and will have to be demolished and rebuilt.