I suppose I should probably blog about something else at some point, but I can’t stop reading about the aftermath of Katrina. It’s making me sick to my stomach — the incompetence, the callousness, the racism. It’s a national humiliation, the fallout of which will be with us for decades. Unlike the response to 9/11, about which we are so eager to gush — oh, the heroism! the unity! — here we want viscerally to turn away because our own pathologies have been revealed, and those pathologies don’t sit well with the American triumphalism currently in vogue.
As you can see, I have nothing but bile and sorrow to add to the conversation. So here are some more reading and listening materials, if you can stand it (sorry, I’ve lost track of where I found many of them, so the attribution is spotty):
The single best thing I’ve read on Hurricane Katrina is Tom Engelhardt’s essay, appearing on his own TomDispatch. If you read nothing else, read this, and all the way through. It puts the entire event (along with Iraq and environmental malaise) into perspective.
Emily Gertz writes about the “technological and networked assistance systems” that have sprung up to assist victims, including the KatrinaHelp Wiki, a virtual messaging center by the same team, and the Katrina PeopleFinder Project. Note also the massive effort underway to get free wireless internet service going in the area. Help if you can.
Buried under central New Orleans is the Agriculture Street Landfill, for years the recipient of municipal garbage and toxic waste from service stations, chemical plants, and manufacturers. It was regularly sprayed with DDT in the 40s and 50s. It’s highly toxic, listed as a Superfund site. It is almost certain to leak toxic effluent into the filthy stew that is now New Orleans, producing what the Toronto Sun calls "an underwater Love Canal." Who uncovered this important story? The tiny Canadian magazine Solid Waste & Recycling.
This Fortune article is about the most sensible thing I’ve seen on the connection between Katrina and climate change.
Prize-winning journalist and emergent-disease expert Laurie Garrett wrote a lengthy email on, among other things, the implications of Katrina for infectious disease. It’s one of the best, most comprehensive, and most compassionate responses I’ve read. (via boingboing)
Roger Pielke Jr., an expert on hurricanes and hurricane-response, catalogues the gross incompetence of the feds. See also Kevin Drum’s chronology of how FEMA was reduced from one of the most effective federal agencies to yet another Republican crony operation.
Most of you have probably already seen the interview with Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, on Meet the Press. It is simply heartbreaking. After a litany of FEMA incompetence, he finally breaks down into tears and cries out:
Nobody’s coming to get us. Nobody’s coming to get us. The secretary [Brown, of FEMA] has promised. Everybody’s promised. They’ve had press conferences. I’m sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody!
You can find the transcript and various video formats through BoingBoing.
If this interview with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin led you to believe he’s some kind of liberal hero, read this immediately. It was explicit government policy not to evacuate the poor — a policy with which Nagin was intimately involved. Don’t let anyone tell you this was some kind of accident or bungle. The decision to leave the poor to suffer and die, trapped in filth, was deliberate; it’s on record. And yet all you hear about in the media is lawlessness and looting.
The legacy of racism that swirls barely below the surface of American life has emerged in all its ugliness in the past week. On that subject, you won’t find a better writer than Digby.
Speaking of racism, in an interview with NPR’s Marketplace today, Barbara Bush said the following about the evacuees that have been moved to Houston’s Astrodome:
Almost everyone I’ve talked to says “we’re going to move to Houston." What I’m hearing — which is sort of scary — is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this [chuckles] is working very well for them.
Still speaking of racism: It’s no secret that racism bubbles beneath the "compassionate" surface of modern conservatism. But this disaster has brought it out into the light, in a way that stuns even me. Note the near obsession with looters — who should, according to Peggy Noonan, be shot on sight. The blogger Jane Galt is, as you might guess from her name, a libertarian, but she’s got a substantial right-wing readership. Here’s just one sample of the responses she got to a fairly innocuous post:
It seems to me that the poor should have had the EASIEST time leaving. They don’t need to pay for an extended leave from their home, they could have just packed a few belongings and walked away to start over somewhere else. What did they have to lose?… Supposing they even had jobs in NO, it’s not like minimum wage jobs are hard to come by.
I just feel sorry for any white people left in that city. I saw video of some white tourists walking aimlessly, dragging their suitcases behind them, looking for help. They said they hadn’t seen any police. What a nightmare…white people abandoned in a lawless city full of black people with no police in sight, and no firearms to protect themselves. You can talk all you want about how awful it is to be a racist, but they are the ones who are finding out firsthand the brutal realities of race in this country.
There are many more, if you can stand to read them. I don’t recognize these people as human beings. (via corrente)
The international response has been one of generosity coupled with "amazement and disgust," as chronicled in this excellent LA Times piece.
Ari Kelman continues to think that talk of abandoning (i.e., not rebuilding) New Orleans is madness. On the other hand, Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Chief Warren Riley says this: “We advise people that this city has been destroyed. It has been completely destroyed.”
Worldchanging’s Alex Steffen thinks Katrina represents an historical turning point — that the debate about whether to build a bright green future is over. Wishful thinking? I hope not. But I can’t say I share his optimism.
Americablog asks a simple but utterly chilling question: "What if — God forbid — another natural disaster or terrorist attack strikes another American city within the next six months?"
Update [2005-9-6 15:27:5 by Dave Roberts]: From the Prospect, another roundup of international reaction. Also, two other ways to help: give money to Architecture for Humanity or sign up to share your home with refugees on KatrinaHome.