Katrina (9/1-9/15, ongoing)

9/1: Between work-stuff and watching Katrina, I’ve been too busy & too sad to post much the last few days.

To sum it all up:, a letter from Switzerland (9/3) [via daily kos 9/4]:

Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black),

(3) the failure to invest in infrastructure (not only the failure to protect the dikes and levies, but the failure to storm-proof the electric and telephone systems by burying cables, etc.);

And, perhaps most striking of all,

(4) the bizarre law-and-order mentality which orders the National Guard to shoot-to-kill looters (that is, to give priority to protecting property more than human lives).

Perhaps it is going too far to state that we are watching a collapse similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago. Much as the total-collectivization and total-centralization of society in the USSR collapsed, eventually, of its own internal contradictions, we wonder whether or not America, too, with its ultra-individualistic, ultra-material ideology and its absence of much concern about the collective needs of society (health care, education, infrastructure, etc.) will collapse of its own internal contradictions.

Here’s the rest of the best & most useful of what I’ve seen on Katrina, below the fold:

relief efforts & mutual aid

Apparently, the Red Cross website is verrry slow; so try your local chapters. Of the local chapters, NY Red Cross is taking a lot of the calls. Yahoo! has also established a dedicated RC donation page. Beyond the RC:

best news sources so far:

thinking about causes of Katrina and responses to disaster:

  • pro-Katrina religious nuts: The tacky shall ever be with us, it seems. Various religious nuts think Katrina was part of God’s plan, and give credit or thanks to this immoral ‘god’ who is allegedly angry at queers, abortionists, and New Orleans residents. The Christians’ sin-hating ‘god’ apparently has poor aim, since he/it took out a lot of Republicans and Christians in Alabama and Mississippi, but somehow missed the French Quarter, the sinful beating heart of queer/punk/drunk New Orleans. One question: Was it also part of their god’s divine plan for George W. Bush to install incompetents in FEMA and Homeland Security?

    Links and excerpts to these seriously troubled people at:

    • The ‘Columbia Christians for Life’ were out early, spotting a resemblance to a fetus in satellite photos of Hurricane Katrina. [8/29, via eve's apple 8/28 and daily kos 8/30 and dispatches from the culture wars 9/2 and salon.com warroom 9/6]
    • Katrina, Fist of God! No, I’m not making it up; Jerusalem Newswire is. According to them, it’s no coincidence that Katrina created refugees after the Gaza evacuation; it’s a godly plan. [Jerusalem Newswire 8/29 via Lenin's Tomb 9/3 via whumpdotcom 9/3]
    • Michael Marcavage, of Repent America, blamed God because New Orleans was about to have its annual “Southern Decadence” celebration — for the thirty-fourth year in a row. [Repent America press release 8/31, via shakespeare's sister 8/31 and pagan prattle 9/1 and dispatches from the culture wars 9/2; WorldNetDaily 8/31 article also quotes Marcavage, via pandagon 9/1]
    • Don’t even think for a moment that the Westboro Baptist Church (Rev. Fred Phelps) would let itself be left out of the god-blaming (or thanking, in their case) fun. [WBC webpage via comments at the raving atheist 9/1]
    • Pat Robertson sees the silver lining: God is distracting media attention away from the Roberts confirmation hearings! [700 Club 9/1, via MediaMatters 9/13]
    • Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son) blamed looting on taking God out of the schools. [LQ: if it's omnipresent & omnipotent how can mere mortals remove it from the schools?] [On Fox 9/1, via World Wide Rant 9/1 & buzzmachine 9/1 and dispatches from the culture wars 9/2]
    • Craige McMillan blames God because the Ten Commandments got taken out of the public schools. [WorldNetDaily 9/1, via pandagon 9/1 and feministe 9/1]
    • Rev. Bill Shanks on Agape Press (of the American Family Assn) blames God for deciding to make New Orleans abortion free, Mardi Gras free, Southern Decadence and sodomite free, witchcraft workers, and false religion free. [Agape Press interview 9/2, quoted/discussed by americablog 9/2 and balloon juice 9/2 and bitch phd 9/3 and sivacracy 9/5]
    • Rick Scarborough of Vision America & the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration hit a trifecta, blaming Katrina on a wrathful God, upset about gay marriage (not legal in New Orleans), man-on-horse sex (not legal in New Orleans), and Israel for evacuating Gaza (neither Israel nor Palestine are in New Orleans). [via max blumenthal 9/4]
    • Maj. John Jones, Salvation Army, blames natural disasters on God who is upset about sin. [via World Wide Rant 9/5]
    • The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida blamed God, for answering the prayers of the oppressed and attacking America. [Internet statement released 9/4, via Reuters 9/4 via world wide rant 9/5 and salon.com warroom 9/6]
    • Hal Lindsey blames God (or maybe Satan): the end times are nigh and Katrina is the beginning of his oft-prophesied end of the world. [Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) 9/9 via MediaMatters 9/13]
    • Charles Colson blames God, who chose Katrina to show how unprepared the US is for terrorist attacks. (LQ: Wouldn’t a memo, say, written on the sky with clouds, or in a burning bush on the White House lawn, have been nicer and less fatal and, really, just as dramatic?) [Breakpoint, Colson's radio show, 9/9, via MediaMatters 9/13]
    • Pat Robertson sees yet another bright side: Katrina took out some abortion clinics. (LQ: All in a day’s work for Robertson’s thrifty & clever god: only one hurricane but two dead birds.) [700 Club 9/12, via MediaMatters 9/13]

    Of course, not all religious jerks are actively pro Katrina: Tim Wise addressed some in his open letter to a well-fed sanctimonious couple who pray publicly. [Black Commentator, linked from scaramouche 9/2]

    some people are jerks without regard to religion: sivacracy 8/31 quotes Jonah Goldberg on NPR being a jerk and links to some other jerk-quotes.

  • aftermath: Rebecca Solnit wrote on The Uses of Disaster (Harpers, Oct. 2005), arguing that “disaster always calls authority into question, and when authority is in question, the powers that be will often attempt to create a narrative of human behavior that calls for (surprise) even greater authority.” Right. Because they did such a good job with the expanded powers they were granted after 9/11. [link from boingboing]. The feds were trying to block photography and media coverage of the dead victims, but CNN got a TRO on Friday 9/9 against the fed efforts, and the feds then gave up the legal effort on Sat. 9/10. [link from boingboing 9/9] No word on the extra-legal efforts to control the message that were also reported on boingboing (9/9).

  • environment & development, both causes and effects: billmon has a good post on “When the Levee Breaks”. Some conservative blogs, looking for something, anything, to blame on somone other than the Bush administration, have latched onto an LAT 9/9 article, hoping to peg the blame on Save Our Wetlands, a Louisiana environmental group. Save Our Wetlands successfully challenged a levee project in the 70s, and says the LAT missed some important details. … The Soc. of Environmental Journalists is collecting info about environmental problems coming out of katrina.

  • tech & info aspects & perspectives: BoingBoing has a lot of coverage of tech aspects, mostly from xeni jardin, including links to blogs, suggestions, etc. Wikipedia and CraigsList have proven to be some of the most useful sites for people involved in the crises, trying to locate loved ones, shelter, etc. It turns out that do-it-yourself communications work better than do-it-yourself evacuations. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere. TeleRead remembers New Orleans through the public domain and aurgasm has an mp3 history of NOLA. Crooked Timber offers a personally mixed CD to motivate people to donate to relief efforts. Rebecca Traister wrote (9/10) about cultural heritage and archive losses. [salon.com 9/10 via bitch phd 9/11]. Ah, this is great: US Customs is donating seized copyright- and trademark-infringing clothes to Katrina survivors. [link via eff minilinks 9/13]

  • Heroes: Jabbar Gibson pirated an abandoned school bus & saved a hundred people. [link from boingboing & Jose Torres Tama describes his ride on a pirate bus; Houston Chronicle 9/1].

    Charmaine Neville (part of the Neville musicians family) also pirated a bus to rescue neighbors. [link to WAFB video 9/5 via boingboing 9/7; see also crooks & liars 9/6; see also transcript @ counterpunch; follow-up @ 2theadvocate.com]

    Rosezina Jefferson went into labor during Katrina, but when her five-year-old son had an asthma attack, she went out a window & swam for half an hour to get help for help — despite the fact that she was having contractions while she swam. Ms. Jefferson and her new baby were reunited with the 5-year-old a few days later. [Pulse 24 9/1; WJLA 9/5; king5 9/5.]

    Navy pilots Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow disciplined for rescuing over a hundred people on 8/30 instead of following orders to deliver the food and water to a nearby military base. (NYT 9/7) The Udkow family website links to much of the coverage and news on the Shand/Udkow incident. In protest for the non-use of their base’s helicopters to help civilian victims, “some members of the unit have stopped wearing a search and rescue patch on their sleeves that reads, ‘So Others May Live.’” The same article points out that many of the military’s early effective responses were from individual servicemembers doing it on their own initiative.

    Many people risked their own lives and health to help others. Medical staff risked their own lives and health to care for their patients: “Some of the [Charity Hospital] staff didn’t eat or drink for days so the patients could survive…. Then they carried people to safety again and again.” [W Post 9/3] Nurse Bernadette Shine and co-workers at United Medical Rehab Hospital looted vending machines to keep diabetic patients from going into shock. [Pulse 24 9/1]

    Dr. James Riopelle, an anesthesiologist with Lindy Boggs Medical Center cared for about 30 staff members’ pets on the roof of the hospital until they were evacuated by volunteers Mon 9/5. [Wash. Post 9/4; katrina voices 9/8]

    Michael Knight, a 44-year-old auto mechanic in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, rescued hundreds of his neighbors when he saw the flood waters rising in his district [salon.com 9/13]:

    That’s when Knight sprang to action. He untied his pirogue and recruited his brother Reginald Jackson and cousin Freddie Hicks to begin rescue efforts in the neighborhood. … Knight stopped counting at 200 the number of people he rescued — from rooftops, from treetops — but estimates he brought at least 400 people to safety. He worked nonstop for the first two days with no sleep, and then only took quick naps in his pirogue for the remaining three days of rescue efforts. Knight slept in his boat, securing it by fastening it to an antennae on the roof of his house, which was by Tuesday afternoon completely submerged in water. … “People like Michael Knight came out in droves when the water started to come up,” says [state Rep. Charmaine] Marchand. “Neighbors with boats helped other neighbors. We had a lot of effort, but just not enough manpower.

    This report by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky (9/6), two EMS folks at the EMS Conference in New Orleans tells of stranded tourists and New Orleanians coming together despite government officials impeding attempts at aid. [The Socialist Worker and ZNet (9/6)]:

    What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.

    The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, “stealing” boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

    Most of these workers had lost their homes and had not heard from members of their families. Yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20 percent of New Orleans that was not under water.

    Pandagon lists more heroes in its sidebar.

  • new orleans evacuation, do-it-yourself american style: The race and class dynamics of this are black & white: just look at the pictures in the news of who’s in the Dome and who’s stranded. For commentators talking about what’s obvious, start with this note from a relief worker (8/30) on the evacuation plans for the poor. [posted by xeni jardin @ boingboing] Then read a bit more from Making Light (8/31); Slate (8/31); and Schussman (9/2) on Katrina by the Numbers. Crooked Timber examines basic social consciousness on the part of pundits (9/1) and thinkprogress.org does the numbers (9/4) on media attention to the race & class issues. The London Observer describes English tourists told they’re on their own. Interestingly, English tourists reported that police offered to help American tourists evacuate. Apparently that was a tourist special, since it seems inner city residents didn’t get quite the same attention. Note that NO has the lowest percentage of car ownership in the country, including NYC, and a 30%+ poverty rate; NO is 67% African-American, over 50% of whom live in poverty. More details from LeftTurn. China Miéville doesn’t let Nagin off the hook for not making the evacuations work (9/5). David Leheny @ Sivacracy lays out (9/4) the 3 possible explanations for the racial divides: bad luck; African-American people are stupid; and institutional racism.

  • racism & sensationalism in reporting looting: Speaking of racism, media outrage over looting is beginning again, of course with racist overtones. See Making Light (8/30) comparing AP photos of black people “looting”, but white people “finding things”. Salon.com covered the story (9/1). Cherie Priest wrote about (8/31) the socio-economics of disaster. Orcinus covers (9/3) some of the most egregious racist commentary. LQ 9/1: I have no way of knowing what’s going on on the ground, but I fervently hope that the national guard, police, etc. are prioritizing saving lives and preventing violence over non-violent property theft. … 9/3: Not surprisingly, it seems that a lot of the looting stories have been exaggerated, to say the least. See a local’s report on Looka! (9/3):

    The reports of looting downtown are exaggerated. Yes, they broke into the grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, for food, etc. Canal Street had a few hours of thugs doing sports shops, but all other shops and the ENTIRE French Quarter is safe and untouched. The storm did glass and roof damage and trees UPTOWN. Just needs to be swept. Looks LESS dirty than a typical Mardi Gras day.

    Nihilistic Kid de-sensationalizes a lot of the looting stories (9/2) [link from badgerbag (9/3)]. Troops surprised by lack of violence. (LAT 9/3). Bats Left Throws Right quotes (9/1) MSNBC reporter Tony Zumbado:

    “These people are behaving themselves,” [Zumbado] said. “They’re taking care of each other.” He said he covered the aftermath of Andrew, and people there behaved much worse even though they had more. … He also said that some aid truck drivers had apparently refused to go in because of fears of violence, but that those fears were “just not true”.

  • Finally, on the handling of the disaster:

    Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. [quote from sideshow; attribution discussed 9/4 and 9/5 and 9/11]

    Curious about what went down & what didn’t, when? BoingBoing links to various timelines, including wikipedia and NPR (unexecuted plans and misdirected aid) and a Katrina-specific wiki. ThinkProgress.org also has a timeline covering Fri. Aug. 26 – Sat. Sept. 3. Salon.com has a timeline covering Fri. Aug. 26 – Tue. Sept. 13.

    Just how incompetent was FEMA and Homeland Security? Josh Marshall points out (9/3) that hurricanes and hurricane-related flooding are not separate disasters, in response to Homeland Security’s Chertoff who seems to act as if they were an unrelated series of unfortunate events. Chertoff’s and Brown’s apparent surprise at the disaster is even more inexplicable given that that exactly this scenario was described by FEMA itself as one of the “three likeliest, most catastrophic” disasters facing the US. [See Houston Chronicle, 2001/12/1.] Moreover, Editor & Publisher quotes Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, explaining that both FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were sent formal advisories — and even attended telephone briefing calls — informing them of the disastrous potential of Katrina, including “overtopping levees.” Individual human judgment replaced by generic ‘rules’ and ‘regulations’ meant that federal officials required many evacuees to abandon their animals even when it was completely unnecessary to do so. [W. Post 9/4] What happens to the stray animals? Some are rescued, but some local officials are shooting stray dogs. [dallas news video via daily kos 9/9]

    Partial explanations for FEMA’s ineptness may be found in the Washington Post (9/4); Knight-Ridder discussion of FEMA’s focus on terrorism 9/2; and Kevin Drum’s chronology (Washington Monly 9/1) of fema & flood control projects for the past few years. Other explanations might lie in the capability of FEMA & Homeland Security staff: Think Progress (9/6) examines the qualifications of other FEMA staff. The Wash. Post points out (9/8) that five of the eight top FEMA officials have no disaster experience and are apparently all patronage appointees: Bush donors or Republican political operatives. In that environment, it’s not surprising that the Post also found that veterans who have emergency management experience have left FEMA in droves since the Bush appointees came in. Fafblog points out why the President is not to blame (9/6) and offers another approach (9/5). … As for what didn’t happen, ThinkProgress.org debunks (9/13) right wing myths about Katrina, evacuation, and emergency relief efforts.

    This Is Not Over laid out (9/6) why Bush is so awful: No accountability, no personal responsibility, no empathy. LQ 9/15: As for his much-vaunted taking-responsibility-claim, I do appreciate it, I do, it’s just that, well, it seems very politically motivated: sort of like ‘yes, yes, I’ll take the blame if we can just focus on something else on the relief efforts’.

    My problem with Bush … is that during the time that the crisis was developing, from Monday to Friday, he never seemed to experience any actual sense of urgency as a result of the simple fact that people were, minute by minute and hour by hour, dying.

    … Where are the stories of how he was in his office freaking the fuck out because there were tens of thousands of Americans trapped without food and water? Where’s the story of how he ripped a strip off of somebody, demanding to know what the holy hell the holdup is getting water and food to those people?

    … We are dancing around now about whether it is his failure or not his failure. Where is the decency that would tell him that he is the president, and FEMA is part of his administration, and this failure is his to own and apologize for, whether other people also were wrong or not?

    Why is he even trying to shift blame to anyone else? Why isn’t he wracked with such guilt, justified or not, that he can’t stand up straight? How is it possible that late in the week, when it was so obvious that every safeguard meant to guard against just this kind of catastrophe had failed and he had failed every citizen of that city, he had the joviality to make jokes about his partying days in New Orleans? I’m not talking here about appropriateness or sensitivity, although both were obviously lacking, and there’s been no apology for that, either. I’m wondering how it’s possible that he felt that way. How was he not tormented? Because he wasn’t. You can see that he wasn’t. I would feel better if there were some report that he seemed, at some point… shaken. Upset. Angry. Desperate. Something.

    Journalists and pundits have been visibly shocked by the scale of the disaster and the handling of it; Crooks and Liars has many, many audio & video clips & transcripts. Jack Cafferty on CNN 9/1 is a great place to start [originally referred by Misc Heathen]:

    I have never, ever, seen anything as bungled and as poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can’t sandwiches be dropped to those people in the Superdome. What is going on? This is Thursday! This storm happened 5 days ago. This is a disgrace. And don’t think the world isn’t watching. This is the government that the taxpayers are paying for, and it’s fallen right flat on its face as far as I can see, in the way it’s handled this thing.

    We’re going to talk about something else before the show’s over, too. And that’s the big elephant in the room. The race and economic class of most of the victims, which the media hasn’t discussed much at all, but we will a bit later.

    Belle Waring points out (9/2) that four years after 9/11, and untold billions of dollars sunk into “homeland security”, you might have thought we’d do disaster recovery just a little bit fucking better than this:

    Say what you like about casting blame for the unfolding tragedy in NO, the bare facts of the matter are these: America suffered a serious attack on Sept. 11, 2001. That was four years ago. I think we had all assumed that in the meantime a lot of wargaming and disaster-mitigation planning and homeland security gearup had been going on. If this is what the Federal and State governments are going to come up with when the suitcase nuke goes off in D.C., then we are well and truly fucked.

    Billmon compared (9/3) the responses to this disaster with election year disasters in Florida:

    It’s instructive, on that score, to compare the current response to Hurricane Katrina (in which the Three Stooges apparently have seized control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a bloodless coup) with the administration’s efforts on behalf of the voters of Florida following last year’s triple storms — Charley, Frances and Ivan.

    True, the 2004 disasters didn’t completely take down a major metropolitan area by turning its urban center into a bowl of shit soup. But the difference in the federal goverment’s performance before, during and after those storms had passed is stlll rather striking. It appears there’s something special about years divisible by two — and particularly every other year divisible by two — that can inspire amazing feats of bureaucratic energy and competence, at least in large, populous swing states.

    Respectful of Otters (9/3) has little respect for this administration’s efforts or excuses:

    [T]he administration’s defenders noted that the waist-deep floodwaters — not a lack of effort by the federal government — kept relief convoys from arriving to help stranded residents in New Orleans.

    “The problem is not a lack of resources, will or the organization to provide assistance,” said James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow in homeland security at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “The problem is how to get it to the tens of thousands of people who need it.”

    Yeah. If only the United States had, oh, I don’t know, a branch of the military specializing in dangerous amphibious landings. Or, you know, boats. Think what they could have done then. But no, “the greatest country in the world” (as the conservatives never tire of assuring us) is utterly flummoxed by the insurmountable obstacle posed by waist-deep water.

    Paul Krugman’s NYT op-ed (9/5):

    As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago. … The administration has always tried to treat 9/11 purely as a lesson about good versus evil. But disasters must be coped with, even if they aren’t caused by evildoers.

    Not just incompetent — criminally obstructionist: Unbelievably, apparently federal officials are refusing to allow people at the Convention Center to leave New Orleans [crooks & liars has the fox news video from 9/2; these conference attendees (SW 9/9) also witnessed armed government officials refusing to allow people to self-evacuate, and Making Light links to a corroborating report from a sheriff who refused to let people cross the bridge], yet according to the Red Cross 9/3, the feds are also refusing permission for the Red Cross to enter. [More details at TalkLeft, and Jeneane Sessum called the state Homeland Security Dept. to get their confirmation.] American Samizdat has collected many stories about obstructing aid.

    In Houston one report said federal officials were refusing donations although Astrodome residents (!) were eager to get them. White Washing the Black Storm has two law profs’ first-hand accounts of how the Houston AstroDome relief situation is evolving.

    I think The Times-Picayune puts it well [The T-P, "OUR OPINIONS: An open letter to the President" (9/4)]:

    Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

To sum it all up:, a letter from Switzerland (9/3) [via daily kos 9/4]:

Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black),

(3) the failure to invest in infrastructure (not only the failure to protect the dikes and levies, but the failure to storm-proof the electric and telephone systems by burying cables, etc.);

And, perhaps most striking of all,

(4) the bizarre law-and-order mentality which orders the National Guard to shoot-to-kill looters (that is, to give priority to protecting property more than human lives).

Perhaps it is going too far to state that we are watching a collapse similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago. Much as the total-collectivization and total-centralization of society in the USSR collapsed, eventually, of its own internal contradictions, we wonder whether or not America, too, with its ultra-individualistic, ultra-material ideology and its absence of much concern about the collective needs of society (health care, education, infrastructure, etc.) will collapse of its own internal contradictions.