Monday, August 24, 2015

Katrina

Character

Rick Bower, AP - Canal Sreet,; September 4, 2005
Most mainstream news organizations are hosting ten-year retrospectives of one of the most tragic natural disasters to befall a major, iconic American city -- the flooding of New Orleans at the end of August, 2005, caused by one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S.: Hurricane Katrina.

Not that unnatural disasters haven't occurred to cities in the U.S. -- the abandonment of Detroit is the most obvious; Love Canal in the 1960's, Manhattan on 9-11; even other natural disasters like the Great Johnstown or Brownsville Floods; the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. But the catastrophe in New Orleans was different -- because of who lived in the city; and who was in charge of the government which was supposed to protect and rescue its citizens. All its citizens.

It became a tragedy watched in near-real-time on cable and mainstream news, and it was magnified by indifference, arrogance and incompetence. Today everyone just calls it 'Katrina'.
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Terms like Personality and Character are used to describe traits of an individual -- 'personality' referring to something mutable, changeable; while 'character' is something more essential and fundamental, the bedrock and framework unique to each person that animates a 'personality' like a suit of clothing -- the upshot being that personality can change, but not character: Blood will out. A Leopard can't change its spots.

For me this week, remembering Katrina is a short meditation on the idea of Character, as personified by two women -- one black and poor, the other white and a member of the top one-hundredth of our One Per Centers.
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On Monday morning, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina had slammed into the coast of Louisiana; four major levees had been breached around New Orleans and much of the city was flooded. People had died. More were dying. Thousands were losing everything they could not carry.

To escape the flooding, 11-year-old Danielle Mollett helped her ill grandmother Diane Mollett, 64, up into the attic of their home in the Ninth Ward, the area of lowest elevation in New Orleans and the district that would be hardest hit by the flooding. 

In the aftermath of the Hurricane's landfall, the weather turned tropical, sultry; temperatures rose -- hard on those trapped in the confines of an attic. With no food and little to drink, they waited for help.

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Danielle Mollett, Interviewed For The August 24, 2015 Edition Of CBS News (CBS)
On that same August morning, George "Lil' Boots" Bush -- the "Decider" -- appeared in Arizona to present a birthday cake to John McCain. He spoke about his plan for Medicare, and gave Katrina only a passing mention.


 Bush had been told that the New Orleans levees might not hold, that there was potential for a catastrophe. That this had happened, that 85% of the city was deeply flooded, had already been communicated to the White House on the evening of August 29th.

On August 30, New Orleans had descended into something out of Dante. At the same time, Lil' Boots appeared in California, at the Coronado Naval Air Station in San Diego, where he had delivered his 2003 "Mission Accomplished!" speech, claiming Vic'try in Iraq.  Bush spoke about those wonderful times -- and made mention of Katrina, saying help would be coming "any day now".  And he was photographed trying to play a guitar.

Lil' Boots left for Crawford, Texas on Air Force One,  intending to take a Labor-Day vacation at 'The Ranch'.  White House aides, aware of what was happening in Louisiana, suggested the situation was serious enough that the President return to Washington.  Lil' Boots was not happy, but agreed to cut short his vacation by a whole day, but through that night it became clearer just how bad it was in New Orleans.


On August 31st, Lil' Boots demanded that he be flown from Texas, low over the city, on Air Force One. The huge 747 buzzed the area repeatedly for over a hour -- interrupting relief efforts requiring helicopters. As Bush stared out a window, press secretary Scott McClellan later quoted him as saying, "It's devastating. It's gotta be doubly devastating on the ground." 

Bush returned that day to the White House, held a cabinet meeting on Katrina, and spoke briefly in the Rose Garden to describe federal relief efforts.  FEMA's uncoordinated reaction before and after Katrina struck (and that of its polo-playing director, Michael Brown) had been stupefying. Mainstream television news had reported on the confused and ineffective relief efforts -- too little, too late, and most of it FUBAR.

Privately, Representative Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] urged Bush to fire Brown because of all that had gone wrong; "What didn't go right?" Lil' Boots replied, and on September 1st praised Brown publicly ("You're doin' a heckofa job, Brownie!").

8 days later, 'Brownie' was allowed to quietly step out of an active role in managing the crisis. On September 12th, he resigned as director of FEMA; in later testimony before Congress, Brown alleged "that Lousiana governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin bore most, if not all, of the blame for the failures in the response to Katrina, and that his only fault had been not to realize sooner their inability to perform their respective duties." (Wikipedia)
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In New Orleans on August 31st, 11-year-old Danielle Mollett had managed to help her grandmother out of the attic where they had been trapped. Her grandmother's health was failing. They were lucky enough to be seen and rescued by one of the few boats bringing survivors out of flooded areas, taking them to the New Orleans Superdome stadium, which was situated on slightly higher ground than the rest of the city -- still, lower portions of the structure were flooded by three feet of water.

An estimated 30,000 people found their way to the Superdome between August 29 and September 2. Conditions were bad: limited food, water, sanitation and medical services; sewage systems were backed up by the flooding. The most seriously ill -- like 64-year-old Diane Mollett -- were given small folding cots to rest on.
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Boots, On The Little Rupert Network From New Orleans
To balance public perception that he showed little concern for the tragedy on the Gulf, Bush quickly flew back to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and fumbled through a long, photo-op tour of the region. He even made an 'Address To The Nation' from New Orleans. A few miles away, at the Superdome, not enough of the thousands of survivors had adequate food or water, and no one seemed able to get any to them.
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But by now, too many people had seen just how desperate things had become -- network news reporters at the Superdome were shaken by what they saw of the conditions there. On September 1st, Paula Zahn of CNN interviewed FEMA director Brown, who claimed to have "only just learned" 30,000 people in the damaged Superdome had no food or water: "Sir, you aren't just telling me you just learned that the folks at the Convention Center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off? " she asked, incredulous. 

Brown appeared bored as he replied, "Paula, the federal government did not even know about [them] until today" --an obvious lie, since evacuations from the Superdome had been going on, slowly, for over 24 hours.

No one seemed to be in charge. In FEMA's inactivity before the catastrophe, and its mismanagement in the aftermath obvious to anyone watching the news, the government's response seemed too little, too late. Another fuck-up, like Iraq -- Because FUBAR; and because the people suffering and dying in New Orleans were poor and primarily black.

On September 2, NBC broadcast a live Concert for Katrina, to raise awareness and money for relief efforts. Standing beside comic Mike Meyers, Kayne West offered an observation about the disaster which was broadcast live across America -- except on the West Coast, where tape delay allowed NBC to delete his remarks:

Meyer's Look ("OMG: On Teevee??") = Priceless
"I hate the way they portray us in the media. If it's a black family, it says we're looting. If it's a white family, it says they're looking for food. And you know that it's been five days because most of the people are black... We already realize that a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they have given them permission to go down and shoot us. George Bush didn't care about black people."
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On September 2, Diane Mollett died on her cot, waiting to be taken out of the flooded city to the Houston Astrodome. Her 11-year-old granddaughter Danielle was alone, surrounded by strangers in a nightmare; she would stay, "balled up inside myself" for two more days before being bussed, by herself, to distant relatives in Texas .
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As a show of their own concern (and damage control for the Bush brand), former President George H. W. 'Poppy' Bush had reached out to former President Clinton to found a charity organization for relief and rebuilding.  On September 5th, Poppy and his wife, Barbara, toured the Astrodome in Houston, now filled by thousands of refugees from New Orleans.

Barbara Bush had recently spoken about her son's invasion of Iraq, which wasn't going well ("Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? ...It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?") -- and after her tour of the Astrodome made this observation, broadcast on National Public Radio's Marketwatch program:
"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they [refugees from New Orleans] all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the [Astrodome] here, you know, were underprivileged anyway; so this (chuckle) – this is working out very well for them."
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Danielle Mollett wept, remembering the death of her grandmother. She has spent the last decade trying to remake her life and move beyond what she experienced in New Orleans. It's a proof of character, and its quality, that she's succeeded.

Then, there's Barbara Bush. Her remarks, and the social class she represents, provide indications and testaments as to the quality of her character, as well.  And, her son... well;  the less said about him, the better.
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MEHR, MIT LUMPENHUND:  Lil' Boots -- too arrogant and limited to recognize that he has failed at almost everything he has attempted as an adult; too dim to recognize that he was an empty-suit front man for President Cheney -- appeared in New Orleans today to speak at a local school in commemoration of New Orleans, a city "which never gave up".

Auf Nicht Wiedersehen, Lil' Boots, you Poultroon *; you Lumpenhund nutter.

( * Poultroon = Archaic /Middle French: A rascal, a scoundrel; a coward. )
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