Turns Out Bush Just Don’t Like Black People…
Or maybe there was more to the story than that….
My history with hurricanes goes back a long way. I have a great grandfather that was a hero of the 1900’s Galveston storm that killed some 6,000 people. My youngest memories are of hurricane Carla blasting the Gulf Coast in 1960. I once first blurted out “I love you” to a woman I was dating dropping her off at work during a hurricane.
I grew up surfing hurricanes on the Gulf Coast – Galveston, Surfside, Matagorda, Padre Island – it was the only time Texas surfers would see 10+ foot waves. We’d clear out long before ‘the really big stuff would come down’ but since Dan Rather had made his bones reporting on Carla, we were always guaranteed some idiot weatherbabe would be broadcasting live from the Remote Stormtrack Eyewitness Hurricane Van blathering on about how unsafe it was to be surfing at the beach, three, four days before a storm would make landfall. (Three days from hurricane landfall the biggest safety threat is usually sunburn – or getting whacked in the face with a microphone as you come out of the water) So we’d get on TV back in Houston – that was the day you’d wear your fluorescent green baggies – so all your friends could pick you out on TV if the cameras caught you on a particularly big wave. (It was also kinda funny to watch the sweat roll down the idiot weatherbabe’s face as she’s wearing her hurricane-gear yellow mackinaw hat and full raincoat with buckle up rubber boots as you’re standing there in just your trunks trying to hold your board steady in the breeze – but that was before Hi-Def TV, so the viewers at home never knew – but I digress.)
Knowing hurricane clouds from both sides now, something about the reporting of Katrina just never set right with me. The media narrative was ‘Bush didn’t respond’. But I also remember the day after Katrina – 32-point type headlines in the newspapers saying, “New Orleans dodges a bullet” and talking about how the hurricane wasn’t that bad. By the end of the day, the city would be overcome with water, untold hundreds dead and huge disaster engulfed a city. One of my favorite cities.
But Katrina wasn’t the only hurricane. In actual fact, Katrina hit Mississippi harder than Louisiana. I guess there’s no Superdome in Biloxi for refugees to have to resort to cannibalism in order to survive – which is what the early reports out of NO were saying. And as long as we’re looking at actual facts, hurricanes hit MS, FL, GA, AL – all during the same Bush Administration that didn’t like black people, and somehow, the people of those cities and states survived the exact same FEMA response that somehow betrayed New Orleans.
As it turns out, facts being stubborn things, local and state government has the primary responsibility, and actually the locals are required to request federal assistance BEFORE the feds can act. In the instance of Katrina, local democrat politicians refused early FEMA help – either from not wanting Bush to get credit for responding or just in the confusion of poorly handling a bad situation – a fact that somehow got left out of the papers.
Tonight I went to the single night premier of Harry Shearer’s The Big Uneasy – an investigative documentary about what really happened to New Orleans. Most people know Harry as the bass player in Spinal Tap, (see the cucumber-in-foil down the pants at airport security scene) or from his voice work on NPR and about a million character voices on The Simpsons…
Most of all, Harry is a New Orleans native – who, very much like me – found something very wrong in the press accounts of Katrina.
When a documentary filmmaker feels very strongly about a subject – the tendency is to present every shred of evidence, with three backing confirmations and cross references from un-impeachable sources. As such, the film can drag in parts – mostly due to too much detail. (Fortunately I saw this coming and snuck a couple of those little airline sized bottles of rum to spike my own coke-and-rum, which is great with buttered popcorn in the theatre.)
But the net result is, when you really look at the facts, our own Congress caused Katrina. It was a man-made disaster (Equality Update – some women politicians helped too).
See, earmarks fund water projects. The Army Corps of Engineers goes wherever Congressional earmarks send them. There were huge, major, man-made mistakes made that would affect South Louisiana. Upriver, hundreds of projects did ‘flood control’ on the Mississippi River, good for the locals in St. Louis, but bad for the silt that could no longer be picked up by ‘the Big Muddy’ and deposited downriver as coastal marshlands south of New Orleans. Speaking of south of New Orleans, canal projects designed to straighten out the meandering Mississippi allowed salt-water intrusion to kill cypress swamps that protected the mainland from hurricane surges. (No worries, there’s a new, Billions and Billions dollar priced – “largest project ever of it’s kind” designed to damn up a canal that never should have been built – that is, the canal shouldn’t have been built, we desperately need the Billions and Billions solution to our original mistake).
Bureaucracy had 1950’s era levees protecting New Orleans against storms half the size of Katrina. Political connections had contractors building hydraulic pumps that could never pass inspection.
Contractors got rich. Politicians got millions in campaign contributions. People died. And a huge cover-up ensued.
No one in the media picked this up. Every network, newspaper, cable news outlet did stories on the 5th anniversary of Katrina this weekend. It took a guy whose claim to fame is stuffing a foil wrapped cucumber down his leather britches to make this documentary.
The one thing the film did show, was the people of New Orleans rebuilding the city. Not poverty stricken, teat-sucking, permanent-victims-waiting-for-Bush-handouts wailing for someone to save them. They showed folks working to save a city they love, a vibrant and valuable port city – looking for real answers to real problems.
One of the interesting things was they’ve engaged with Holland – learning from how those cities exist on coastal plains and handle the challenges. New and innovative solutions will come out of this.
I’m struck with one image, Shepard Smith wailing for help from the federal government live on Fox News during the flooding. I know Shepard. I was in Fort Myers, Florida doing radio when he was there anchoring a local TV newscast. He couldn’t know – or didn’t take the time to find out – that as he was going all emotional on live TV, the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans were being bombarded with calls, faxes, and requests from the Feds to please let them come in and offer assistance. Those pleas to offer assistance would go unanswered for another 18 hours. Legally, there was nothing the Bush administration could do – nothing anyone in the Federal government could do to take action until it was requested. It’s called Posse Comatitus and it’s one of the foundations of our federal law, stating that Feds can’t just go sending in the troops within the borders of the US without a request from state and local officials – had this been Haiti, response would have been quicker – but we don’t teach these things in schools anymore, so we can’t expect anyone to know these things.
But I don’t mean to excuse the Bush admin, just to point out how the media narrative was SO off base, SO wrong, SO ignorant and SO misguided.
The real mistakes and malfeasance were actually years in the making. It was the Corps of Engineers lack of actual engineering acumen, broad-stroked mistakes and misguided projects from back in the early ’60’s that would eventually doom New Orleans after Katrina passed. It wasn’t the hurricane – it was the levee failures (not breaches overrunning the levees – but structural failures both below and within) that caused the disaster. Simple enhancements to soil compacting, armoring and structural modifications could have prevented the entire episode now known as Katrina.
So in the end, we need to demand more of our elected officials who ‘bring the bacon home’ with water projects that destroy fragile wetlands and ecosystems that would have protected New Orleans. We REALLY need to demand more of our media and investigative journalists (if any still exist) to bring us just a please just a mere smidgen of truth along with the over the top sensationalism that is today’s ‘news’. And we need to demand more of ourselves – that we pay attention to the politics that our elected officials don’t sell out a city for campaign contributions from developers that make millions while working on earmarked bring-home-the-bacon projects that end up inadvertently killing people and destroying cities.
And to Katie Couric, Brian Williams, I-don’t-even-know-who-anchors-the-other-network, and even you, Shepard Smith, you might try stuffing a foil wrapped cucumber down your pants the next time you go through airport security. As the alarms go off, it may not establish you as particularly well-endowed, but it would put you in the company of someone who has committed actual journalism within recent memory.