Sunday, September 04, 2005

Angry now about Katrina.. and loud about it.

I don't talk out of school. I've made it a rule. I don't go around bad mouthing America in Britain. I don't (I would never) join protests against my government on foreign soil. I generally keep my mouth shut. I don't enter into conversations about US policy foreign or domestic with Brits I don't know well. If asked directly I often equivocate. It's true that many Brits I know are aware that I vote Democrat, but hey that's hardly being disloyal (no matter what some people might say). I am a proud American.

(Go ahead and say I'm on the Internet, but trust me my hits come from the US almost exclusively largely from Tennessee or Tennesseans and anyway that's different from the live version. I firmly believe that I am an ambassador for my country and state in my words and deeds. Though sometimes I'm an ambassador with some embarassing diplomatic incidents when I get a snooterfull, sorry 'bout that. Note to other expats in the UK, give Katrina relief such that your contribution attracts Gift Aid )

But I am angry, now and my anger is visible. I can't think of a time when I've been this angry with my government. I just cannot understand how people could have been left to die as they were in New Orleans.

From the very beginning the poor people were herded like animals and made to stand in the rain, admitted only one by one to the Superdome. (For security searches to prevent guns from being brought in, guess that didn't work). And then they were treated worse than animals inside the Superdome. I'm not excusing it, but I can understand how some started to act like animals. Folks will behave in the way you treat them, usually. We all know there are a few bad apples in every bunch and when you cram that many people together the bad apples really stink.

Kanye West can say that George Bush doesn't care about black people. I honestly don't think that Dubya is a racist. But I do think Bush doesn't care about poor people, just doesn't comprehend poverty and doesn't have the imagination or the wit to understand. and when you compound that with the racism on the ground in NOLA, in the mainstream media what you get is large numbers of black people left in absolute squalor to die. Poor white folk too and hispanics and tourists with no way out. But really it doesn't matter what color these people were, these were people, Southerners, Americans mostly abandoned in their hours of greatest need.

People were left to die, they are still dying, because of gross incompetence. The director of FEMA Michael Brown says no one could imagine a levee break. He suffers from a lack of the imagination required for policy makers and administrators and risk managers. And anyway he doesn't have to imagine it, it was all written down if he'd bothered to read the memo. Yesterday I watched a press conference where he equated the likelihood of levee breach in the aftermath of a hurricane to an atomic bomb being dropped on the same city during a hurricane. No sir, these are not in the same order of likelihood. One is caused by the hurricane and the other...well that's just stupid.

Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall have more on the sickening and known incompetence of this man. A man with no emergency planning background and a man who was a proven failure at administering horse shows.

I am angry because money was wasted. I'm over here in London and I knew we were in the cross hairs, too, right after 9/11 and hell yeah I supported money, a lot of money being spent on security and on fighting terrorism. I expected a bunch of cash to be spent on emergency planning, and sure enough it was. But to what effect? Evacuation plans, rescue and maintaining law and order, providing emergency rations must be part of the Homeland Security arrangements but I couldn't see any evidence of any of this until yesterday, days after the need became clear. For all those who voted for George Bush for security reasons, how safe do you feel now? Read this letter at the Daily Dish.

I'm ashamed too by all those in the American blogosphere who said to hell with those people in New Orleans. People who took the racist, classist low road and blamed the victims. Yes, I know there are always a few stubborn fools who try to ride out the storm. But in large part people in NOLA seemed to follow instructions. Lots of people just couldn't get out, they had no car or no money and no public evacuation was provided. When they did go to designated shelters they were left without food and water. When those abandoned tried to fend for themselves commentators called for them to be shot, as if the death toll wasn't high enough already. Read this story from The Times about how two middle class, white British tourists were forced to scavenge for (loot) food amid shoot to kill orders.

So I'm silent no more. When it comes to my government, the government of the richest country in the world, the government of the most resourceful people on the planet, abandoning people to die in the Superdome, in the NOLA convention center, on the side of I-10, and in their sweltering attics, I have plenty to say and I don't care who hears me say it.

One last thing, I am very proud of all those Americans who have opened their homes, their hearts and their wallets to help those suffering in the aftermath of Katrina. I am proud too of those citizens of NOLA who struggled valiantly to save their fellow citizens.

PS. American expats in Britain who open their wallets should do so to a charity in the UK, specifically the Salvation Army, to take adantage of Gift Aid

1 comment:

Eileen said...


I absolutely agree with you. The images from New Orleans have been surreal. Those images were something I would expect from third world poverty stricken areas not from one of the most popular tourist areas and one of the busiest shipping points in this country. It's unfortunate that images of looting or foraging for food has had such exposure, the media should be showing complete strangers caring for the elderly, children and the infirmed. Acting as true neighbors. I agree with you that the behavior of a few is not excusable, but given the conditions they were living in and the way they were treated it was not surprising that a "Lord of the Flies" situation would emerge.

Hearing the rhetorical question of why didn't they all leave makes my blood boil. Sure, some were foolish or stubborn and thought they could ride it out. But I think that accounts for a very small percentage of those left in New Orleans. Given the poverty level of that city it shouldn't surprise anyone that so many were left behind. Gas prices have been extremely high recently, not as high as in the UK or EU but high for US norms, and for someone living below the poverty level it would have been impossible to fill a gas tank for $50 or $75 and leave town. Some didn't want to leave their sick elderly parents, grandparents, or extended family.

This should not have been the surprise attack that it turned out to be. There should have been busses and trains ready to evacuate those without the resources to move themselves. Everday we're seeing rescue workers risking their lives to pluck people from their rooftops or front porches. There were reports from the mayor of New Orleans this morning that at least a couple of rescue workers, firefighters, police officers, etc, have committed suicide. The people on the front lines need some relief, physical and mental.

I could go on and on but feel I need to finish here. I'm just rambling at this point. It's been very frustrating and very distressing to watch. I'm so proud of the state of Texas and the city of Austin for their hospitality and spirit. People here have opened their arms, and wallets, to help these people out.