Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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New Orleans (The Political Entry)

I tried to write about this days ago, but it was impossible to sort out all my thoughts well enough yet to know what to say. I'm going to try to make some progress on that now.

Let me start by noting that the city where I live, Sacramento, "faces similar flooding risks to those in New Orleans," in the words of this article. "In a worst-case scenario, parts of Sacramento could be under 20 feet of water." Like New Orleans, Sacramento is located at the bottom of a "bowl," with large rivers (the Sacramento River and the American River) flowing directly through the middle of the city, and with a humongous lake (Folsom Lake) just upstream of us, held back from flooding the city by a large dam (Folsom Dam). All over Sacramento one can find maps of how much of Sacramento would be underwater if Folsom Dam ever broke. I, personally, because I live a fair distance outside the actual city limits, would be projected to end up on dry land - but just barely. The shoreline would be just a few blocks from me. And the levees that hold the rivers back from us are in even worse shape than the New Orleans levees.
"The risk of flooding in Sacramento is higher than most every major metropolitan city," said Jason Fanselau, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "Levees are vulnerable, and the levees in Northern and Central California -- most of them date back to 100 years or more."
That's from this article, which also notes that "It was desperate in the Sacramento area in 1986, when residents had to be rescued by boat. Again in 1997, there were 40 levee breaks in a 100-mile radius." And: "Since then, many levees have been strengthened to withstand a 100-year storm. But Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo notes that the levees in New Orleans were built to a 250-year standard."

So, although I thankfully do not live in hurricane territory, I do live in major flood-risk territory, and the end result is pretty much the same: as I look at the pictures and read the stories of what's happening in New Orleans, I'm forced to realize that this exact same scenario could extremely easily happen here. Sacramento is, in fact, just as big a disaster waiting to happen as New Orleans - except for one thing: Sacramento does not have nearly as many people living below the poverty line, carless and unable to escape the city. And I, myself, would not be one of the carless ones. If Sacramento flooded tomorrow morning, even if the projections were off by a few blocks and my apartment did end up underwater, all I'd need would be enough warning to get in the car and start driving and I could easily drive to my parents' house and stay with them on much higher ground.

But it's too easy to get the impression, from watching the news reports, that this kind of thing could only have happened once, only in New Orleans. That New Orleans was the only disaster waiting to happen. That's not true. I'm living in another one. There are others. This could very easily happen all over again.

If anyone is feeling like boycotting some oil companies right now for how they've profited from the diversion of the National Guard to Iraq, fflo and friends have come up with what seems to me a pretty interesting plan. She suggests buying gas only from Venezuela's national oil company, Citgo. You can find your nearest Citgo with the Citgo website's handy store locator.

Now, about Bush. I think we who have eyes to see and minds to notice with had already long ago gotten quite used to Bush's actions being worse than totally unhelpful. But we are not so used to having a majority of our fellow Americans notice it too. The difference seems to be that in this case, it's not only Bush's actions that have been idiotic, but his rhetoric as well. This editorial summed it up brilliantly:
President Bush did not address the nation about Katrina until 5 p.m. on Wednesday - more than 48 hours after the storm struck, and more than 24 hours after New Orleans was destroyed. Bush didn't even look at the stricken area until a few hours before the speech - and not from the ground, but from an airplane window.

Despite the horrors being addressed, the speech was curiously flat and passionless.

For example, the president's first words were, "I've just received an update from Secretary Chertoff and other Cabinet secretaries involved on the latest developments in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama."

Now that's what those of us in the newspaper business call a weak lead.

Bush later stumbled through a laundry list of things the federal government had supplied so far - 5.4 million of this, 13.4 million of that - with no sense of what it all meant.

His total "motivational message" for boosting contributions to the Red Cross and other relief organizations was this: "It's important for those who want to contribute, to contribute cash."

Not exactly the kind of soaring rhetoric that sends people running for their wallets.

In contrast, Bush spoke to the nation less than 12 hours after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

That speech began: "Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were . . . secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended. . . . The pictures . . . have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger."

That's powerful stuff, even in this edited form. And, with a few changes, the eloquent sentiments would have been appropriate in talking about Katrina. In fact, Katrina did vastly more damage than the terrorists - and may take more lives.
I think, however, that there are some very big, and very interesting, reasons that Bush does not feel inspired to use that kind of rhetoric this time around. Namely: Bush thinks in terms of battles between good and evil, and he wants to be able to position himself as the good person battling the evil. Not only does "weather" not make a very satisfactory Ultimate Evil to battle heroically against (especially not for a born-again Christian who must on some level be uncomfortably aware that his belief system indicates that his God either caused this weather or willingly permitted it to happen), but if you look deeper than superstitious attributions of the weather to deities of your or Bush's choice, if you look for scientific causes of the weather, then the primary causes are . . . Bush himself, and all the corporations he supports. And how can he deliver a good pep speech about the Battle of Good Versus Evil when all the Evils to be named are his own?

This is not strictly a "natural" disaster, and I think even Bush knows that. This is an unnatural disaster. Global warming, which Bush refuses to cooperate with even the sadly inadequate Kyoto Protocol's efforts to alleviate, is worsening the hurricanes. Bush's refusal to fund programs to shore up the levees worsened the effects of the hurricane. The diversion of the Mississippi River from its natural course to enhance shipping is also worsening the effects of hurricanes upon cities near it. mariness, a marine biology major, explained in a recent entry:
In part to enhance shipping, and also to reduce flooding along the Mississippi, the Army Corps of Engineers have done a remarkable job of transforming the Mississippi, deepening the river in some places, creating levees in others.

The result is that the Mississippi River no longer truly ends in a sprawling delta where silt is continually washed down from the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains, reforming wetlands, but instead is shot out into the Gulf of Mexico. This is one factor devastating commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico (and is one reason why Americans are now eating Asian shrimp, which are raised in farms carved from mangroves, resulting in the destruction of thousands of acres of mangroves throughout southeast Asia yearly). It also, incidentally, ends up shooting nutrient laden waters (from farmlands in the midwest) smack dab into a nice sunny spot in the Gulf of Mexico where happy little dinoflagellates go nuts over the increased food and start creating red tides, which start killing fish, marine mammals and some humans. The increased speed of the Mississippi River also creates greater strain against levees.

And the loss of the wetlands removed some of the buffer areas that might have helped weaken Katrina before it hit residential areas in the state of Mississippi.

We have known about this for years. Wetlands loss has been methodically documented. Fisheries issues in the Gulf have also been methodically documented. (And before various people jump on me, yes, extremely poor public policy in the state of Florida and manmade changes to the Florida Everglades have most certainly worsened Gulf ecosystems -- this is hardly only a Mississippi River issue). Believe it or not, Senator Trent Lott, not known for environmental concerns of any kind, has spoken up in concern about the problem, and when Trent Lott admits that an environmental problem exists, we should all start getting very concerned indeed.

And we did nothing except document things.
There's so much to be said, in this entire event, about the impact of money. Corporate greed for money caused the Mississippi River to be diverted from its natural course to one more advantageous for shipping. Corporate greed for money also caused global warming which in turn caused bigger hurricanes than usual. Money or the lack of it determined which New Orleans residents were able to evacuate and which were not. Nobody offered to fund the evacuations of people who couldn't afford to leave New Orleans before the hurricane hit. Rich people from the Hyatt Hotel are being deliberately moved ahead of poor people from the Superdome in the evacuation lines, even though the rich people have been holed up in much less horrendous conditions while waiting. And money is also what's all over the news in the form of "looting." Much of what is being stolen will be unusable anyway after the water rises above it and everything sits around soggy for three months before the city is habitable again. The mainstream media does not seem to be letting this prevent them from being indignant about the theft anyway. Some of what is being stolen would still be usable though, and this is the stuff that an awful lot of even self-identified leftist people seem to be deeply indignant about the theft of. I am not indignant over that. I am indignant over people being shot, raped, threatened with guns on the streets, and so on (which Mayor Ray Nagin explains probably results in large part from severely drug-addicted people being left stranded without a fix), but I am not indignant over the nonviolent theft of every damn thing in the entire Wal-Mart store, regardless of whether it was a necessity of life or would have remained usable after three months underwater or not. This kind of "looting" is also known as a socialist revolution in progress. It was high time.

Seriously. No matter how helplessly lacking reinforcements the police officers were, I personally would never dare to steal anything from under police officers' noses unless it was food without which I feared starving to death; even the faint possibility that someone might have a camera and be able to track me down later from the photographs would be sufficient threat to keep me law-abiding. But that is because I am a middle-class suburbanite who would never have ended up stuck in a drowning city in the first place if I had any kind of warning at all to get out ahead of time. I can afford not to take such risks, and if I don't take them, I can expect with great confidence that I won't still end up in jail anyway. Whereas most of the people left in New Orleans . . . well, I already summed it up with this LJ icon I made a year ago, which is free for the taking to anyone who'd like to use it:

Sources for all statements made in the icon are cited here. Do you see what I'm saying? Under non-hurricane conditions, these people are still likely to have to choose between theft or starving to death. And under non-hurricane conditions, the police will have all the reinforcements necessary to arrest and imprison them for it, and will do so. So if people are stealing things other than food right now, has it ever occurred to you that things other than food can be sold to obtain food? Maybe they can't be sold to obtain food in New Orleans at this moment when food is so short, but certainly later on, elsewhere, they can be sold. Has it ever occurred to you that the people stealing these things may indeed need these thefts to be able to feed themselves later on? Even after they escape New Orleans with the clothes on their backs but everything else they ever owned destroyed utterly?

I'm tired of hearing even self-identified "left-wingers" rage about how anyone stealing non-food items from Wal-Mart should be prosecuted and jailed. There are people out there who need the money a whole lot worse than Wal-Mart does. If being condemned to an extremely high risk of death by a government that couldn't be bothered to offer them any financial assistance to evacuate is what it took to motivate them to start taking their fair share of financial resources, then I grieve for the dead people but I cheer the "looters" on. Who "looted" years of slave labor from most of those people's ancestors in the first place? The ancestors of the people who own Wal-Mart and most of the other corporations. My ancestors, too. From whom I inherited enough money and education to be middle-class and afford a car, precisely because those people didn't. The people who own Wal-Mart would very likely not own Wal-Mart if their ancestors hadn't gotten them off to a good financial start using the slave labor that they looted. So although I desperately do want the rapes and random violence to be stopped, I think we need to be very aware that an awful lot of the authorities in charge of stopping such things (by which I mean high-up politicians, even more than I mean any lower-down law-enforcement authorities) are at least as interested in "protecting" withholding property from people whose survival may very well depend upon "looting" it. And I think we need to not be cheering those authorities on when they stand in the way of people's survival.

And now, just in case any of you haven't heard them all yet, I leave you with a list of some of Bush's (and his minions') most outrageously stupid statements and acts from the past few days:
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will," [Bush] said.

"Out of the rubble of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house - there's going to be a fantastic house," Bush said. "And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
           from San Jose Mercury News
I first saw that one quoted on a bulletin board and I just instantly assumed it was a parody rather than an actual quote. I couldn't believe Bush could be stupid enough to be throwing the ability of rich senators to rebuild fancy mansions in the face of all the penniless people who never had fancy mansions to begin with and have now lost even the few pieces of furniture they owned and the tiny shabby apartments they only rented to begin with.
After the authorities in Baton Rouge had prepared a field hospital for victims of the storm, Fema sent its first batch of supplies, all of which were designed for use against chemical attack, including drugs such as Cipro, which is designed for use against anthrax. "We called them up and asked them: 'Why did you send that,['] and they said [']that's what it says in the book'," said a Baton Rouge official.

"If you need help, just ask and we'll be there," [Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin] told Bush on Thursday in a 15-minute phone call that was to have been a sharp discussion of the softwood lumber dispute but instead became a call of sympathy and condolence.

Martin said Bush didn’t ask for help, but predicted he will.
           from The Brandon Sun
I think that last one is the most revealing of all. Supposedly Bush needed more time to "determine their needs." Meanwhile we have 86-year-old women lying in the sun on Interstate 10 for two days with no food at all and hardly any water - see the photo caption in that same article. HOW CAN BUSH POSSIBLY NEED ANY TIME AT ALL TO "COORDINATE" A REQUEST TO "SEND HELICOPTERS TO DROP FOOD AND WATER"?

All over LiveJournal, I've seen people asking why Bush has been postponing acceptance of the numerous offers of foreign aid. It seems to me that there are only two possibilities. Either he's so delusional that he actually thinks we don't need any immediate assistance - which seems so incredible that his believing such a thing hardly qualifies as a "possibility" at all - or . . . and this is the explanation that seems far more likely to me . . . Bush is actively trying to stall as long as possible in deliberate hopes of killing off as many poor people who don't vote Republican as he possibly can.
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