Friday, September 02, 2005

The Dorian Gray of America 

Robin Young of WBUR's Here and Now was on Morning Edition this morning for her usual preview of the day's show, and she's had it.

"We're a civil radio station, and we have civil conversations, but I don't know how much longer I can do that. This is a national disgrace. It now is clear that more people are going to die horribly because of the lack of preparedness for and lack of response to Katrina than died in the hurricane. It is just horrendous. I watched Harry Connick, Jr. this morning, a native of New Orleans. He was so sickened by what he was seeing, sitting in Los Angeles, he flew to Louisiana, got there yesterday, drove into New Orleans as he said this morning on The Today Show, without seeing any road block - drove in and walked around the city by himself. And he's saying 'If I can do this, where are trucks of water? That could be your or my mother dying on the floor of the convention center because she has no water, in America.'

So we're throwing the show out again and we're going to continue to take a look at what's going on. I mean, a lot of people are wondering, we got to Bagdhad faster than we're getting help to New Orleans, and it's just a national disgrace."

As Morning Edition continued, they played a series of sound bytes that followed the story from just before the hurricane, to the present. At first after the storm but before the flooding, there were lots of people saying that the lord had their backs, since they had decided to stay in the city and they were proven right. They thought.

Of course, the apparent intent of the lord was reinterpreted after the flooding, when some groups stepped up to the mic and the press release to proclaim that the flooding was God's punishment against those who sin and shelter sinners. Now, I'm thinking that if this whole thing was part of intelligent design, a protective god or a punishing god, things would have come out differently. If this is intelligent design, there are a lot of flaws in the plan. If the lord had their backs, there wouldn't have been a storm in the first place. If this was punishment, wouldn't it have been a bit more specific? I mean really - the states of Louisiana and Mississippi aren't in general very welcoming of the gay men and lesbians on whom that group blamed the flooding. If this were punishment against the wicked and those welcoming of sinners, wouldn't it have been focused entirely on New Orleans? But then again, lots of folks in New Orleans probably adhere to what they see as god's will, so wouldn't they have been spared? Wouldn't the punishment have been better targeted at cities and/or regions with larger populations of the supposed evil-doers?

This wasn't a supernatural intervention in moral response to things done or not done by people. It was a hurricane. It caused the sea level to rise, it caused the waves to crash into the structures on shore, it caused the water level in the lake to rise, it caused failures in the levee system. It was predicted, it was tracked and the possible outcomes were known.

Then our wise president gets on the air and states that "no one" could have predicted that the levees would fail. I'm sorry, but Bullshit. Just Bullshit. I'm no natural disaster savant, or follower of the latest in city planning news, but I've been hearing for years about the dangers facing New Orleans and their particular topographical issues. And the failure of one or more segments of the levee system has always been discussed as an area of particular concern. So don't say no one could have predicted it. They did predict it. Say "we didn't think it was going to happen during this storm, and we were wrong."

Pres. Bush also explained that he'd spent a lot of time with Alan Greenspan and the members of the energy and economic experts, to take a look at how the disaster might affect the nation's economy, and how they can best mitigate those effects. I'm so glad he's dedicating large blocks of time to assisting businesses, because business is the lifeline of America and the American Way.

Bullshit. Just Bullshit. Meet with business leaders and tell them to get their asses in gear, do some public work and help out. Get satellite phones out there to rescue workers (I heard an interview with a sat phone provider in Arizona who had rented out about 400 satellite phones to emergency workers - how about donating some? How about the government taking care of it?), get infrastructure workers down there to assist with the physical recovery of the area, get medical workers down there to assist with the physical recovery of the people. Get mental health workers down there to assist with the emotional recovery of the population. Get the National Guard down there to stop those absolute and total assholes who are looting Wal-Mart's entire firearm department (yes, that was the first area to be looted) and are now further terrorizing the other survivors, including shooting at a rescue helicopter trying to move patients from a hospital. Why didn't this happen earlier in the week? Why was it more important to sit down with oil industry experts to help them get their balance sheets through the storm?

This wasn't a tsunami. This was a storm that was being tracked, and the early warning had been given out that the area needed to be evacuated. Why don't more people who can leave do so? There are always people who hold it as a point of honor that they never leave. We have them up here, too. They refuse to leave their beachfront home in the face of severe winter storms, or they go down to the seawall at Revere Beach during a hurricane. Why doesn't New Orleans have a system set up for evacuating those who don't have their own means of leaving the city before severe storms such as this one? This is the scenario they've been discussing for years, and they saw it coming.

And now that what's done is done, a small number of the survivors are managing to demonstrate every ugly stereotype that the world has of Americans. Gun-happy, criminal, exploitative, intimidating, thriving on the opportunity to grab power in the face of chaos, and more eager to blame the mythical "powers that be" than to dig in and fix it. A SMALL NUMBER. But that small number has a huge impact.

Huge numbers of people are pitching in, helping their neighbors even though they're suffering themselves, organizing, implementing rescue and recovery efforts as best they can. But then there was the guy - not a resident of an impacted area - interviewed on the radio this morning complaining about how the "powers that be" (his exact phrase) are just using the hurricane to take advantage of the American People and force us to pay more at the gas pump, and it's all just a big conspiracy. Not to say that there's not some truth in this - there are reports of price gouging, people are looting and then reselling the goods to refugees - but take a look in the mirror, dude. He was filling up his big old gas guzzling SUV at the pump while he was complaining about the price of gas. Do you really need that fuel hog? Have you thought of modifying your day-to-day habits in order to conserve a little bit of gas and reduce demand?

The government - national, state and local - need to get in there, and need to prepare in the future. But people need to take some responsibility too. Show some interest BEFORE this stuff happens. What would you do in case of whatever type of natural disaster is known to occur in your area? Get involved in your community. Take a look at what might be causing that rise in crime. Anything that might present an alternative to criminal activity? Because just "locking them up" isn't the big picture answer.

As Robin Young said earlier, "Where's the Rudy Giuliani of New Orleans?" The armed gangs can only step in if there's a vacuum. Community leaders, whether elected or just active citizens, need to be ready to prevent that vacuum from forming, and be ready to step up if the vacuum does occur.

A woman being interviewed on the BBC just said that New Orleans is America's Dorian Gray. The weaknesses in the infrastructure have been there and are there throughout the country, but we can no longer pretend we don't see them. The looters, muggers and rapists have been in the community for a long time, but now everyone has to see them. The question is - what are we going to do to change our conditions?

If a natural or man-made disaster (or a combination) were to occur in your region, what would you do? Think about your particular area - what are the possibilities? Earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, heat, cold, blizzard, power failure. What needs to be done on a community or regional level? What would you do? And what would you do to help others and your community? Or do you take care of number one and everyone else can look out for themselves. What would you do? What can you do now? Think about it.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 10:13 AM