Katastrophe Katrina

stuff happens

There's a lesson for us all

Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast. Government turned it into a genuine Katastrophe.

Horrific scenes that most Americans usually see reported only "over there" in distant and impoverished third-world places were played out on TV screens across the world. But this time, the scenes were made in America, as the gulf coast, an area well accustomed to hurricanes and flooding, got a taste of Mother Nature when she kicks it up a notch. And it was not a pretty picture. A near-universal reaction seemed to be, "I can't believe this is happening in America." Suddenly the country that can topple governments with shock and awe was in its own state of shock and awe.

When the levees in New Orleans broke, allowing Lake Pontchartrain to empty into the city, the city and state were utterly unable to cope, although just such a worst-case scenario had long been anticipated and planned for. In a shameful display of bureaucratic bungling and colossal incompetence, the federal government failed to step in and help in significant and concrete ways until several days had passed.

W went his merry way, vacationing in Crawford, giving speeches about Iraq, and holding fund-raisers in California, while FEMA — headed by Michael D. "Brownie" Brown, formerly of the International Arabian Horse Association — turned back truckloads of water and other supplies, and while foreign offers of assistance went unacknowledged while Secretary of State Condi Rice shopped for shoes on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Meanwhile, corpses floated in the waters of New Orleans, armed thugs marauded and preyed on victims, the waters continued to rise, and politicians continued to issue press releases and thank each other.

When the White House finally realized they had a problem on their hands, they swung into action — with a public relations campaign to shift blame and make excuses. Former presidents Clinton and Bush 41 were again pressed into service to raise money for flood relief, a reprise of their assignments after the tidal wave devastated south Asia.

Bushes visit Astrodome

Barbara Bush, the mother not the daughter, toured the refugee center at the Astrodome in Houston and enthused that "so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Marie Antoinette could not have been more crass. Granted, some may possibly end up better off than they were in Louisiana, eventually, but being homeless, jobless, and separated from family members is hardly "working very well."

If there is any silver lining, it may well be that Katrina made visible some aspects of life in America that most would rather not think about: distressing levels of poverty; the mix of race and poverty; the consequences of cronyism and pork-barrel politics; the need for government to assure the common good.

Editorial cartoonists have had a field day. I've collected some of the better ones in a slideshow (see sidebar).

But perhaps the best commentary about the way W has responded to this challenge came as a photoshopped picture, source unknown:

Bush in New Orleans - fake
Bush, father and son (fake)

Moral

There are lessons that every person should take from Katrina:

  • Shit happens
  • When it does, you had better be prepared to take care of yourself and those you love and care about
  • If you depend on someone else to take care of you, worse shit will happen