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New Orleans: The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned

by Captain Future Thu Sep 1st, 2005 at 08:24:50 PM EST

(This is substantively a cross post with Booman Tribune, though with some differences.)

The immensity of what is happening in New Orleans goes beyond what we can can calculate.  Here in America, the images are flooding into homes and offices, of children starving on camera.  Gasoline prices are going up daily and hourly in some places, so there is an acute awareness of what's going on.

Most people are stunned that this could happen in an American city in the 21st century---not the hurricane itself, but the response by the people in charge.    

These are the stark headlines:

Bodies, gunfire and chaos in New Orleans' streets
By Mark Babineck
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Rotting bodies littered New Orleans' streets on Thursday and troops headed in to control looting and violence, as thousands of desperate survivors of Hurricane Katrina pleaded to be evacuated from the flooded city, or even just fed.


And this is one of the failures behind them:

No plan ever made to help New Orleans' most vulnerable
Published on: 09/01/05 Atlanta Constitution

"Each time you hear a federal, state or city official explain what he or she is doing to help New Orleans, consider the opening paragraphs of a July 24 story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own."


This is an apocalyptic moment, a revelation.  But of what?  

For starters, it is a revelation of the politics of greed, that began its current resurgence in America on a national scale in the 1980s, and its apotheosis with the second coming of George Bush.

It is the revelation of the culture of denial, a combination of consumption as chief value and exhaustion from so many personal pressures (due to the need to make money to be a legitimate part of the consuming culture)and the self-protection from assault by so many images, making each of us responsible for everything, yet feeling powerless.

It is the revelation of the ecology of ignorance, upon which much political and economic power depends.

It is the revelation of our failure to think seriously about the future in our various decisions.

And it has the inevitable feeling of an even deeper historical apocalypse.  I am probably not the only person (though these days, who knows) who has been thinking today of this poem by William Butler Yeats:

"Turning and turning the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!  Hardly are those words out
When a vast image of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

All true.

And the thing is, the focus on New Orleans only shows a part of what is going on. See this about suburban New Orleans and rural Southern Eastern Lousiana, which have largely been completely cut off from the rest of the world. At least a 100 found dead on roof tops in Chalmette Slip, LA

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Fri Sep 2nd, 2005 at 04:16:03 AM EST
New Orleans mayor lashes out at feds

Mayor Ray Nagin's voice cracked with anger and anguish Thursday night in an interview with New Orleans radio station WWL.

"We're getting reports and calls that [are] breaking my heart from people saying, 'I've been in my attic. I can't take it anymore. The water is up to my neck. I don't think I can hold out.' And that's happening as we speak."

Nagin said the time has long past for federal authorities to act on their promises.

"You mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on man," he said.

"I need reinforcements," he pleaded. "I need troops man. I need 500 buses, man. This is a national disaster.

"I've talked directly with the president," he said. "I've talked to the head of the homeland security. I've talked to everybody under the sun."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday that he thinks the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies have done a "magnificent job" under difficult circumstances, citing their "courage" and "ingenuity."

...On Thursday, Nagin's frustration was palpable.

"I've been out there man. I flew in these helicopters, been in the crowds talking to people crying, don't know where their relatives are. I've done it all man, and I'll tell you man, I keep hearing that it's coming. This is coming, that is coming. And my answer to that today is BS, where is the beef? Because there is no beef in this city. "

Nagin said, "Get every Greyhound bus in the country and get them moving."

Nagin called for a moratorium on press conferences "until the resources are in this city."

"They're feeding the people a line of bull, and they are spinning and people are dying," he said...

The mayor said except for a few "knuckleheads," the looting is the result of desperate people just trying to find food and water to survive.

Nagin blamed the outbreak of crime and violence on drug addicts who are cut off from their drug supplies and wandering the city "looking to take the edge off their jones."...

This is a major meltdown, and not out of the blue.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 2nd, 2005 at 08:58:21 AM EST
Predicted chaos & flooding:

Still, much of what happened this week in New Orleans had been foreseen by federal and state emergency planners, as the city's newspaper, the Times-Picayune, laid out extensively three years ago. "Survivors will end up trapped on roofs, in buildings or on high ground surrounded by water, with no means of escape and little food or fresh water, perhaps for several days," one story predicted with eerie accuracy.

The Bush admin cash-starved hurricane defense:

federal funding for improving the levee system and implementing other projects to keep water from overtaking New Orleans dwindled under the Bush administration... Earlier this year, an article in the New Orleans CityBusiness detailed the funding shortfalls faced by the Corps of Engineers in efforts to build $114 million worth of hurricane protection projects. With federal funding down by more than 44 percent from 2001 levels, Stan Green, project manager for the Corps's Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, told CityBusiness that no new contracts for construction had been awarded since early in fiscal year 2004...

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Walter Maestri, a New Orleans emergency management official, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in mid-2004. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

The Bush administration also has made significant changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shifting funds away from pre-disaster preparation and implementing policies to promote outsourcing of relief efforts to private companies.

In the summer of 2004, reported the Independent Weekly, FEMA denied Louisiana funding for pre-disaster preparation.

...An August 1 story by ABC 26, a local news affiliate, detailed how many of the Guard's high water vehicles, refuelers and generators - coveted equipment in Louisiana right now - are in Iraq... According to the Associated Press, about 6,000 National Guard members from Mississippi and Louisiana are in Iraq right now.

Disaster response training funds hit too:

FEMA staged a "table-top exercise" in Baton Rouge, La., to gauge how well it would respond if a Category 3 hurricane hit New Orleans. Officials learned a lot from the role-play, says Tolbert, and then returned to their offices to create a new plan to respond to an actual disaster in the region. "Unfortunately, we were not able to finish the plan," Tolbert said. The funding for it ran out.

Bush was held back from even worse cuts:

Army Corps of Engineers' funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain. In 2005, Bush asked for $3.9 million, a fraction of the request the corps made in internal administration deliberations. Under pressure from Congress, Bush ultimately agreed to spend $5.7 million...

As recently as July, the White House lobbied unsuccessfully against a plan to spend $1 billion over four years to rebuild coastlines and wetlands. More than half of that money goes to Louisiana.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Sep 2nd, 2005 at 09:31:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Built not for the highest possible danger:

City officials blame the feds, who have provided little funding to restore the 300,000 acres of wetlands that once acted as a hurricane buffer for the Crescent City and no funds to raise the city's levees to provide protection from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. New Orleans's levees were designed to protect from a Category 3 storm, but they've been sinking for decades, and local experts say they are not up to even that task.

Here is a map with the breaches, and a cross section of New Orleans, from CNN (levees are 18 feet high on the river side and 17.5 feet on the breached lakeside; click image for full-scale image):

...and here is a better map of the levee breaches (with a less informative cross-section), via BBC:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 2nd, 2005 at 10:00:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the maps, now it's all somewhat less of a mystery. I hadn't seen any of our US media show this.

NVA, a viable option when the political process fails.
by NorthDakotaDemocrat (NorthDakotaDemocrat at gmail dot com) on Sat Sep 3rd, 2005 at 05:32:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As of Friday afternoon US time, troops have begun to arrive in the devastation zones, especially New Orleans, with food and water.  Hospitals are being evacuated.  Bush did his photo op tour, but a poll shows 68% believe the government didn't respond fast enough.  Yesterday, Sec. of State Rice was spotted buying $3,000 shoes in Manhattan; vp Cheney is still on vacation in Wyoming.

Here are excerpts from a couple of other relevant stories on the wires today:

Models predicted New Orleans disaster, experts say
By Alan Elsner Fri Sep 2,11:54 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Virtually everything that has happened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck was predicted by experts and in computer models, so emergency management specialists wonder why authorities were so unprepared.

In comments on Thursday,President George W. Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

But Louisiana State University engineer Joseph Suhayda and others have warned for years that defenses could fail. In 2002, the New Orleans Times Picayune published a five-part series on "The Big One" examining what might happen if they did.

It predicted that 200,000 people or more would be unwilling or unable to heed evacuation orders and thousands would die, that people would be housed in the Superdome, that aid workers would find it difficult to gain access to the city as roads became impassable, as well as many other of the consequences that actually unfolded after Katrina hit this week.


Forecast: Hurricane Season Far From Over
Fri Sep 2,12:54 PM ET
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Amid the unfolding disaster left by Hurricane Katrina, Colorado State University researchers said Friday they expect more storms over the next two months.

The very active season we have seen to this point is far from over," researcher Philip Klotzbach said. "We expect that by the time the 2005 hurricane season is over, we will witness seasonal tropical cyclone activity at near-record levels."


"The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan

by Captain Future (captainfuture is at sbcglobal dot net) on Fri Sep 2nd, 2005 at 06:30:24 PM EST
This is now about rebuilding the Republic.

The trust that citizens and Americans are supposed to have in one another when disaster strikes, a trust that was honored for New York after 9/11, has been mortally wounded.

With every passing day, it's like watching a civilization die.

Many people think the flood can't get them, but it's not a flood of water that's killing NOLA.

It's a flood of deadly unconcern for one's own countrymen, a refusal on the part of many -- and far too many in positions of power -- to exert themselves on behalf of other Americans in their darkest hour.

People remember this sort of thing.

New Yorkers remembered the outpouring of aid and support.

What will New Orleaners remember?

And by extension, how can we the people of the United States of America maintain our more perfect union?

Our domestic tranquility?

Our general welfare?

Our common defense?

We are walking through the phrases of the Preamble to the Constitution with a scythe.

Simply put, "we" are fast becoming an erstwhile "we". When "we" cannot trust one another to be there for us, first in the form of our elected goverment, when resources placed in common trust are used to bankrool fundraisers for the president and leave the little people to drown, what "we" remains?

When many of our so-called friends and neighbors and fellow Americans openly debate whether life or property is more sacred in the context of shooting looters, when entire categories of Americans are written off as unworthy of assistance, when even in the 21st century being dressed in the right skin tone gets you to the front of the bus, what "we" remains?

These are powerful, incredibly dangerous images and anecdotes.

The beauty of it is that redemption and atonement and forgiveness are possible.

The horror is that nothing of the sort is being solicited, that in fact the reasons for requiring penance are multiplying.

This is no longer about rebuilding a city.

This is about rebuilding trust in the Republic.

This is now about rebuilding the Republic.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Sat Sep 3rd, 2005 at 08:31:55 AM EST
Well said.  But I would add this qualifier: the response from ordinary people has been strong.  Many individuals and organizations wanted to help, and weren't permitted to by FEMA, Homeland Security and other authorities, ostensibly because of security concerns.  The Red Cross was kept out of New Orleans.

That is changing now, and stories are emerging of individual acts of great generosity and courage. Not only individual rescues, and acts like a former Gulf Coast resident bringing in supplies by boat, but families in Texas and elsewhere taking in families displaced from the storm areas.

 The empathy and altruism of individuals, and a sense of the common good is still alive.  If it is brought to the fore again, the Republic will be saved, though likely with hardship, and at the cost of the current administration.

"The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan

by Captain Future (captainfuture is at sbcglobal dot net) on Sat Sep 3rd, 2005 at 04:59:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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