hearts and minds

January 10, 2007

Gratitude Owed the Deep South

Filed under: Hurricane Katrina,Politics & elections — Hearts & Minds @ 11:51 pm

Do you think nothing good came out of Hurricane Katrina? You may be wrong.

Had Katrina dissipated her awesome energy at sea rather than visiting her fury of sustained winds up to 140 mph on Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana, leaving millions without homes, infrastructure, or basic services, spawning over 60 tornadoes in eight states, and causing at least 2500 confirmed dead and missing persons, there would have been no national emergency.

Had the levee system been competently designed, constructed, and maintained; and the buffering, protecting wetlands been wisely protected despite the incessant single-minded demands of trans-national shipping and big oil, the storm surge inundation of vast coastal areas, including the City of New Orleans, would not have occurred, or would have been much less severe.

Had the federal Dep’t of Homeland Security (four years after the lesson of 9-11 that motivated the creation of this largest ever federal bureaucracy) bothered to plan, prepare, and coordinate a response for a multi-state catastrophe on U.S. soil; and had George Bush junior, the Cabinet, and the DHS (exposed by the inquiries of incredulous, angered reporters) not demonstrated unequivocally before the eyes and ears of a horrified nation, that they were unaware and unconcerned of the existence, nature, and scope of the unfolding disaster; and had responsible, competent leadership coordinated timely and appropriate, national evacuation, rescue, and relief operations; then wide-scale unnecessary suffering, death, sorrow, and loss would not have occurred.

And one other thing that would not have occurred is the 2006 election results. The arrogant neo-cons, the knee-jerk market-value ideologues, and the culture-war operatives who have purloined the party of Honest Abe Lincoln (on the heels of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to pull die-hard racist Dixiecrats into the Republican Party) would still today control the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.

U.S. citizens and the world saw what happened when disaster struck the entire Gulf Coast region of the United States, and the evidence was unequivocal, damning, and impossible to ignore or mistake. A single instance of bureaucratic malfeasance could not alone cause the political distemper and awakening that resulted in the sea change that occurred and was manifested in the November election. For a single mistake, even a whopper like that, is not enough for Americans to pull the plug on an elected government. Katrina was, however, the eye-opener for us; the last straw. It was the end of an imperial presidency that saw itself, and sought to put itself, above both the law and the citizens. Katrina was the name of the guileless child who uttered aloud and unafraid for all to hear that the emperor was parading without clothes.

The camel’s back was first loaded when Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, and the Supreme Court rejected justice and turned its own ideological bias inside out, when it approved the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal voters in Florida, and voted 5-4 to put Bush/Cheney in charge.

Then quickly followed the series of tax cuts that increasingly and overwhelmingly favored the very wealthy and are still causing cutbacks in basic local services across the nation, such as education and public safety and elder care. They harnessed coming, even unborn, generations of Americans to paying for record high structural budget deficits established by this Bush Administration and its compliant, rubber stamp Congress.

Following the terrorist attack in September of 2001, all U.S. citizens were united in common cause. People and governments around the world felt support and empathy for us. That solidarity was squandered, exploited, and dishonored by the mistaken, unjustified military invasion of Iraq and the mismanaged occupation that followed. Even the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission were not implemented.

The widespread corporate frauds, and CEO greed, and unbridled war profiteering that shamelessly fleeced America in these opening years of the 21st century formed a sleazy backdrop for the corruption institutionalized in the notorious K Street Project’s blatant sale and restriction of government “access”, and the tawdry spectacles of legislation written by corporate lobbyists, and national policy shaped in secrecy by elected officials and unnamed corporations with substantial vested interest.

Few new members of Congress elected in 2006 ran explicitly on a Katrina platform when they turned the tables and upset the incumbents. They campaigned denouncing the culture of corruption and degeneracy established and protected by the elected leadership in Washington and their corporate benefactors.

They took a stand against the exponentially increasing disparity of wealth and income between the super rich and all the rest of us that is threatening America’s middle class, and inexorably swelling the ranks of the poor and the homeless, the uninsured and those forced to chose between medicine and food.

They spoke out against tax policy and “free trade” agreements that free the flow of capital to the rich while shackling working people’s wages and freedom, and impoverishing and polluting the environment.

They demanded that the opportunity for higher education again be open and available to all Americans.

They advocated universal health care (like all other modern industrial nations have) to replace our current patchwork, employer based, exorbitantly expensive, and failing system that is booby trapped with fine print concocted by private insurance corporate strategists.

They developed the courage to say, while campaigning, what people on Main street have long been saying to each other – to abandon the misbegotten, misguided occupation of Iraq, and the policy of fighting fire with gasoline there, and get out.

And they won election because people agreed – but more importantly, because Katrina had finally broken open the faulty floodgates of public condemnation.

Katrina cleared the way for the new members of Congress, and it was on Katrina’s coat tails they all rode. Katrina finally opened our eyes, and galvanized public opposition to a heartless, careless, incompetent, unworthy, self-serving regime.

Katrina alerted many of us who had been too busy and otherwise occupied to examine closely all the preceding warnings that had been obscured and confused by the inherent complexity of issues and by the propaganda. Many Americans with honorable political and moral convictions had previously and loyally supported George W. and company without question. Katrina awakened America.

America and the world owes a debt of gratitude to the victims of the simultaneous conjunction of the “Perfect Storm” triple threat presented by Hurricane Katrina, by the cruel dominance of narrow bottom line corporate marketplace values over human values and common sense, and by the incompetence and carelessness of the Bush Administration when confronted with an impending and unfolding national disaster.

The President, his Cabinet, and their creation, the Department of Homeland Security, are at the helm of a political party that represents the interests of big corporations and the super-rich. Their abject failure to help Hurricane Katrina evacuation, rescue, and recovery efforts is an explicit example of the core values of this base constituency in action.

But a political party that truly represents the people and their common needs, hopes, and values, cannot follow that example. It cannot emulate the Machiavellian calculations and tactics of the party of the rich and powerful that dismiss the needs of the people of an entire region of the country while dividing people against themselves using wedge issues. That is both abdication of the entire moral high ground and suicide by stupidity.

The oil and shipping industries need to contribute their share of the cost from the massive profits extracted over many years from the commonwealth. It was a man-made disaster, compounded by continuing government neglect. The American people realized at once that the Bush regime is accountable.

Let the new and future members of Congress, and all elected officials, take heed, and never forget that the United States of America is a nation governed of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Let all America now, finally, do what it can and should do for our sister and brother Americans in the deep-south Gulf Coast states, and especially New Orleans. Let us finally honor their suffering and their demonstrated courage, and their generosity and sharing in extreme protracted circumstances, and let us instruct our elected representatives to help all Americans return and rebuild their lives and their homes.

January 15, 2007


  1. The Bush Administration not only demonstrated incompetence and callous disregard for Katrina victims, but they haven’t effectively addressed the very big and painful question as to whether or not rebuilding in the same location is wise. The Corps of Engineers and others have been spending countless billions of dollars trying for forestall the Mississippi’s inevitable shift in it’s course to the west and away from the City of New Orleans. It will happen. Efforts to prevent it here to date will only serve to create a greater catastrophy when it does.

    New approaches are needed. The time to take a big picture look at all of the inherent issues is now. But instead of securing New Orleans we’re trying to secure Baghdad. Seems a little nutty to me.

    Comment by Howard — January 17, 2007 @ 11:22 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for conceptualizing the events during 43’s administration which have led to the results of the November 2006 elections. I’m grateful the people of the USA used their power and spoke their dissatisfaction with their vote. Who needs term limits?

    Comment by Dorothy — January 18, 2007 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

  3. I enjoyed your piece on Katrina. I imagine there’s nothing like seeing it in person.

    Comment by Nick — February 12, 2007 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  4. Clyde – as usual I LOVED it! Fabulous. I have this thought in the event the Ozaukee Cnty newspaper drops your column, or even if they don’t, that the West Bend News could certainly use some BALANCE! Would you mind if I forwarded this to them, with the suggestion that they contact you?

    Comment by Nancy — February 12, 2007 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  5. March 16 Follow-up on New Orlean’s Homeless Children:
    Judge Bell recently informed me that the Juvenile Court, FEMA, a U.S. Attorney, and Chairman Donald Powell, with the assistance of the LA Supreme Court resolved on February 14th, to forward information about these children from the Criminal Justice System to their families. Since this time, several kids are removed from the street each working day. Judge Bell reports that most families have been excited about the reunion. The Juvenile Court has also formed a working partnership with Catholic Charities for shelter beds, and for physical and mental health needs of the kids and their families. “Sixty Minutes” has also picked up the story. Very soon people all over the country will know about the lost children of New Orleans.

    Comment by Anne — March 17, 2007 @ 4:30 am | Reply

  6. Greetings from New Orleans! (Sent March 2, 2007)
    We went to a meeting of experts and concerned citizens concerning the plight of our city. One of the speakers who works for a national newspaper said that it’s up to us citizens to disseminate the truth of what has happened and is happening in our town – we cannot rely on the media. She recommended that we tell everyone we know and ask them to tell everyone they know, etc. so the word gets around. Following her guidance, I’m sharing a bit of what I know, hoping you will pass it on to those you know, so our situation can be understood.
    Another speaker at this meeting, a lawyer, mentioned that he was involved in the bill to get funds from our Federal Government to improve our levees since they surround canals which are fingers of Lake Pontchatrain. Their needed improvements were thus included in the Hurricane and Flood Protection Act. When the bill was finally passed in 1990, the improvements agreed upon were EARTHEN levees and the funds distributed were enough to buy the necessary land from the homeowners in order to enlarge these levees. The speaker’s mother lived right on the levee, so he visited her to explain that she would have to sell part of her back yard in order to make New Orleans safer with higher levees. He said he doesn’t know what happened after that except that the Army Corps of Engineers did not buy people’s land and much of the money that was allotted for these improvements promptly disappeared. Meanwhile, a friend who is a contractor and walks his dog around the 17th Street Canal told us that he watched the Army Corps building the “improvements.” Instead of the promised earthen levee, they used light peat soil, short pilings, and cheap, light grade concrete to build a concrete wall extension because they couldn’t afford anything better. When the water from the lake pressed against this flimsy wall, it toppled, flooding New Orleans.
    A man in the audience of our meeting stood up to say he used to work for the Army Corps of Engineers, and he knows for a fact that these “improvements” were built to merely run off the storm surge, not to stand up to water next to them, as in a flood. He encouraged us not to believe what the Army Corps says about the levees being O.K.- “they are NOT!” A woman in the audience mentioned that she knows someone who had moved out of town because he doesn’t trust the levees, and he is still employed with the Army Corps of Engineers.
    There is a movie out now, Hurricane on the Bayou, that attributes the devastation of New Orleans to the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina, yet a local hurricane expert, Ivor Van Heerden, says 80% of the flooding was caused by the collapse of the levees. Only 20% was caused by the storm surge. The film also neglects to mention that the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a canal that was built in 1965 to diminish the trip of seafaring vessels from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico by 40 miles, has been documented to increase the storm surge by 20-40%. It has also devastated the marshlands that offer protection to New Orleans from hurricanes, (see the book, The Storm, by Ivor Van Heerden). Though the media seems to like to blame Hurricane Katrina (“the worst natural disaster in our country’s history”), the fact of the matter is that the destruction of New Orleans was vastly man made – yet there is no accountability.
    A petition is being distributed calling for an official impartial investigation into the New Orlean’s levees and what happened during Katrina. The “official” investigation in 2006 was led by a Lt. General of the Army Corps of Engineers! Three unofficial investigations found their report, “incomplete and technically inaccurate.” Yet, the Army Corps continues to be in charge of the levees that protect 1.5 million people.
    Crime is also rampant on the streets and in homes. One group was stealing copper pipes in houses being renovated as soon as they were laid. They were finally caught, but released the next day because there were not enough guards in the prison for them! Criminals of any kind are also being released if their paper work isn’t processed within 60 days. Judge David Bell of the criminal justice system spoke to our women’s club. He mentioned that the juveniles in the system were ready to evacuate with their families, but the official protocol from FEMA was to separate the children in one bus, the women in another and the men in a third. The reason they gave is they did not know if there were any pedophiles or other criminals in the group, and they wanted to “protect the children,” They were all supposed to go to Houston, but the kids were rerouted midway to Arkansas, and the other two buses were also separated and sent to different locations. After we were allowed back into our city, the kids found their way home, “as stray animals often do,” only they no longer had viable homes, so they have been living on the streets. FEMA will not release the whereabouts of their parents because they say it goes against privacy laws, but did mention they are safe in trailer park settlements. The judge said he’s been trying for 18 months to get the information, and FEMA refuses all approaches. Meanwhile, the kids are fending for themselves with prostitution and theft . . . or are themselves the victims of crimes. Four hundred out of 800 kids in his jurisdiction signed up for school without parental signatures. Monday through Friday, they are getting 2 meals a day, but the summer months are approaching. The judge’s story of the lost parents was one of many tales of horror. All the departments seem to say the same thing – “We have no money to do what needs to be done.”
    A friend mentions how her church has been organizing volunteers from all over the world to come to New Orleans and help people rebuild their homes. She asked, “If our church is able to orchestrate this huge relief effort, why can’t the Administration of our technologically advanced country, wealthy from all our tax dollars, do the same?” To us, the answer is obvious . . .
    On a positive note, a friend said, “I would never have stopped in the 9th Ward before Katrina – I would have passed through quickly with my doors locked, feeling afraid. After the disaster, I brought over food, supplies and T-shirts and handed them out to whomever I could find. It was a delight and a joy to be there.” The tremendous fear of our neighbor that inhibited our interactions before the storm, for a great many of us, has washed away. We’re just grateful to be alive!
    Please help to spread the news of our current status!

    Comment by Anne & Christine — March 17, 2007 @ 4:36 am | Reply

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