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No bullshit

Credit where credit is due

Still hesitant to engage much in the way of Hurricane Katrina commentary, but noting a couple of items:
  • First, a great use of Google maps and "Wiki"-style community contribution. Wicked smaht; I hope it helps many people.
  • Second, those wanting to make a hero out of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (especially while criticizing the response of other authorities) have some serious questions to answer first (via Nagin's Wikipedia entry):
    Nagin's performance in the Hurricane Katrina crisis has been criticized as well and Nagin has been accused of deflection. As mayor he was responsible for establishing evacuation centers and keeping local order. Yet apparantly there were no meals ready to eat (MRE's) stored at his designated evacuation center—the Superdome. There was no water purification equipment on site, no chemical toilets, anti-biotics or anti-diarrheals stored for a crisis. The mayor had not designated any medical staff to work the evacuation center. The city had not established a secure sick bay within the Superdome. The city had not sent police or other vehicles through the poorest neighborhoods with evacuation announcements prior to the storm. There were no functioning backup emergency communications police or fire-rescue radios available. Additionally, the city stored the school buses on low ground where they were flooded and then not available for evacuation.
    Dude. Duh. There's just no way to throw stones at FEMA, et al. without completely wrecking Nagin's glass house (something not well understood by self-absorbed grandstanders like Kanye West). While others take heat while also managing multiple priorities on state, regional, national, and global levels, Nagin had a single area of responsibility—New Orleans, the city that elected him—and biffed it in ways that contributed immediately and directly to the suffering residents continue to face. When the time comes to debrief and assign blame (not yet, Kanye—simma da na!), he would do well to prepare for a steaming helping.

Comments

I have to admit, though I think I see some of what you're saying, I tune out a lot when someone's appearance becomes a key point of a policy discussion.

Agree or disagree, a majority-elected Congress made funding decisions that had impacts on the levee system. That's our form of government in action. In a crisis, state and local leaders were responsible to act in accordance with the reality of the levees as they stood, rather than being lax in their duties, leaving the poor behind, then laying blame on systems they already knew to be limited. If it can't hold, get people the hell out. That's your job. We can haggle the (very important) economics once people are safe.

And while I hear your hopes, West's decision to push his own agenda in that venue simply isn't one I respect. Loudmouthed celebrities using valid causes to launch into personal/political tangents aren't in short supply, and I don't think they do much to help.
I have to admit, though I think I see some of what you're saying, I tune out a lot when someone's appearance becomes a key point of a policy discussion.

And that's something *lots* of Americans do. It's a fact that people of color often see things differently than white folks, and that's not a criticism, it's just an observation. For me race and poverty *are* policy discussions, and you can't throw out the reality of instituional racism and poverty just because they're inconvenient. For something like 70% of white people polled, institutional racism isn't an issue because they don't believe it exists. We're coming from different perspectives, and on a certain level, that's okay. When it comes to Live Journal discussions, what does it really matter anyway? I guess I just chose to respond because I saw the Kanye West thing so much differently than you did. I'm personally of the belief that if you have the audience, you should use it. I'm no celebrity, but if I were on national television, I'd have said something, too. I also think that it really was an emotional outburst. If you've seen Kanye West being interviewed for his music, for example, you wouldn't have recognized him at the telethon. He was nervous (instead of cocky) and obviously talking from the heart. And it helped those of us who've been thinking the things that he said because, frankly, thank goodness someone said it in a medium where people pay attention.

What bugs me about saying Bush and Congress shouldn't be the targets of criticism, but Nagin should is that it 1) doesn't respond to the reality that the entire surrounding area faced devastation. Let's say that the buses had been available and the evacuation plan had been put into place. Where would people have gone? And once they'd gotten there, what would have happened to them? Something on this scale is FEMA's *job* to handle. FEMA doesn't even know how to get monetary aid to people becase many of the working poor live cash-only and don't have bank accounts, and much of what FEMA does is depositing money into people's accounts. Where's the department of Homeland Security (under whose jurisdiction FEMA now falls, which was a monumentally stupid idea - an idea that people have long been criticising)? If they don't have a plan for this, what's it going to look like if there is the actual massive terrorist attack they've spent the last few years fearmongering about? It's their *job* to be ready for something like this, just as it was Nagin's job to evacuate the city. 2) What happens now that the city of New Oreleans (and, not to sound like a broken record, but much of the rest of Southern Louisiana and Mississippi) are *uninhabitable*. People won't be able to even start moving back to clean up for *months*. They're estimating 25% unemployment for much of the area, and these are already people who are hard hit by poverty. Much of the social safety net that has been part of this country for so long has been dismantled over the last 5 years. Where's the funding to help these people? Again, this is more than the responsibility of one mayor. Believe me, many of the people who are so angry with Bush right now have a lot of choice words for Nagin and others who never created a plan to evacuate the people who were most vulnerable. I've seen a lot of editorials about the subject (many of which date from *before* Katrina) about this very topic (and most of them touch on the fact that those most at risk were both (working) poor and black). But Bush isn't off the hook for me. He spent more time in his initial interviews and press conferences talking about gas prices and "zero tolerace" for "looters" than talking about actual relief efforts and what would be done to help people. And so help me, the smirk was in full attendance. Seriously, his handlers should work with him on that.
And that's something *lots* of Americans do. It's a fact that people of color often see things differently than white folks, and that's not a criticism, it's just an observation. For me race and poverty *are* policy discussions, and you can't throw out the reality of instituional racism and poverty just because they're inconvenient.

Oh, I'm sorry, I think I was really unclear. By "someone's appearance," I didn't mean that I tune out about race—I don't (I used to teach a college course on racism and sexism in America). I meant that I was surprised that Bush's appearance was a key point of what you were saying, (you used the term "smirking monkey," I think), and that just loses credibility with me.

When it comes to Live Journal discussions, what does it really matter anyway?

I really enjoy this discussion and am very okay with where and how we are disagreeing. That's the kind of conversation I think can be helpful. Oh, and you were extremely gracious with me in your response, considering it sounded to you as if I was dismissing race as an issue (rather than your comments re: Bush's physical appearance). I would have ripped me a new one! So kudos.

Let's say that the buses had been available and the evacuation plan had been put into place. Where would people have gone? And once they'd gotten there, what would have happened to them?

Wish that was the case. It wasn't. I'd rather argue over money than over bodies. There will be lots of time for doing that. But letting people die is a bigger deal for me than "what will happen now?" We will all be dealing with what happens now for a very long time, no doubt. And one can choose to be angry in advance about the mistakes we may make and difficulties we may face. I'd still rather have more living people to worry about than we do, even though that costs more. That is a larger problem for me.
Thanks for the clarification. I do have a strong reaction to Bush's smirk because I think it's evidence of how he just doesn't get it, but I can see how it would also be off-putting to bring it up. It's just when he's doing his "zero tolerance" thing with Diane Sawyer and his non-verbals say he's *amused*, it's a problem for me. Communication is more than just the words you say. This isn't "I don't like the look of the man." I mean, he looks just like his mother, and I (mostly) *like* his mother. It's "Does he even understand the message he's broadcasting with his non-verbal communication?" Granted, calling him a monkey doesn't strengthen my position (and it's insulting to monkeys - sorry, I couldn't resist). I suppose this is how a lot of the conservatives who couldn't stand the sight of Bill Clinton felt.

Like you, I'm also angry that people died due to incompetence and poor planning. My current problem is that people are *continuing* to die, due in great part to poor planning and poor funding at the federal level. Disaster planning is more than just evacuations. People are dying from heat exhaustion, dehydration, inavailability of medicines, etc. Soon, they'll be dying of diseases from the rotting bodies in the streets. Like I said, there's a lot of blame to go around, but Bush and co. aren't free from it, and that's really, at the core, my point.
We're concerned about some similar things at this point. Where we may differ is how much can honestly be done and how quickly it can be done. I hear people compare response times unfavorably to the tsunami, but I'm not sure that's true—it may be something that just seems true because we had an easier time changing the channel, not to mention the fact that much of that area of the world was more accustomed to responding to natural disaster. With as much notice as we had, much of the tsunami region would simply have been cleared. We didn't go that route and we're paying for it—it is, quite simply, much harder to manage a disaster like this when you've left significant populations in the disaster zones. So I'm open to hearing some criticism, but Nagin is a poor source for it.

Can this happen faster? I'm just not convinced; there's nothing to compare it with. And when people are suffering this deeply, nothing seems fast enough.