Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why?

“The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield.
The Bursting Point
By DAVID BROOKS

“AS the levees cracked open and ushered hell into New Orleans on Tuesday, President Bush once again chose to fly away from Washington, not toward it, while disaster struck. We can all enumerate the many differences between a natural catastrophe and a terrorist attack. But character doesn't change: it is immutable, and it is destiny.

As always, the president's first priority, the one that sped him from Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2.

After dispatching Katrina with a few sentences of sanctimonious boilerplate ("our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens"), he turned to his more important task. The war in Iraq is World War II. George W. Bush is F.D.R. And anyone who refuses to stay his course is soft on terrorism and guilty of a pre-9/11 "mind-set of isolation and retreat." Yet even as Mr. Bush promised "victory" (a word used nine times in this speech on Tuesday), he was standing at the totemic scene of his failure. It was along this same San Diego coastline that he declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln more than two years ago. For this return engagement, The Washington Post reported, the president's stage managers made sure he was positioned so that another hulking aircraft carrier nearby would stay off-camera, lest anyone be reminded of that premature end of "major combat operations."

This administration would like us to forget a lot, starting with the simple fact that next Sunday is the fourth anniversary of the day we were attacked by Al Qaeda, not Iraq. Even before Katrina took command of the news, Sept. 11, 2005, was destined to be a half-forgotten occasion, distorted and sullied by a grotesquely inappropriate Pentagon-sponsored country music jamboree on the Mall. But hard as it is to reflect upon so much sorrow at once, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the real history surrounding 9/11; it is the Rosetta stone for what is happening now. If we are to pull ourselves out of the disasters of Katrina and Iraq alike, we must live in the real world, not the fantasyland of the administration's faith-based propaganda.…
Falluja Floods the Superdome
By FRANK RICH


“"Why didn't they leave?" people asked both on and off camera. "Why did they stay there when they knew a storm was coming?" One reporter even asked me, "Why do people live in such a place?"

Then as conditions became unbearable, the looters took to the streets. Windows were smashed, jewelry snatched, stores broken open, water and food and televisions carried out by fierce and uninhibited crowds.

Now the voices grew even louder. How could these thieves loot and pillage in a time of such crisis? How could people shoot one another? Because the faces of those drowning and the faces of those looting were largely black faces, race came into the picture. What kind of people are these, the people of New Orleans, who stay in a city about to be flooded, and then turn on one another?

Well, here's an answer. Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

What's more, thousands more who could have left stayed behind to help others. They went out in the helicopters and pulled the survivors off rooftops; they went through the flooded streets in their boats trying to gather those they could find. Meanwhile, city officials tried desperately to alleviate the worsening conditions in the Superdome, while makeshift shelters and hotels and hospitals struggled.

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees.

And it's true: eventually, help did come. But how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid? Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long? That's my question.
Do You Know What It Means to Lose New Orleans?
By ANNE RICE



“THE white people got out. Most of them, anyway. If television and newspaper images can be deemed a statistical sample, it was mostly black people who were left behind. Poor black people, growing more hungry, sick and frightened by the hour as faraway officials counseled patience and warned that rescues take time.

What a shocked world saw exposed in New Orleans last week wasn't just a broken levee. It was a cleavage of race and class, at once familiar and startlingly new, laid bare in a setting where they suddenly amounted to matters of life and death. Hydrology joined sociology throughout the story line, from the settling of the flood-prone city, where well-to-do white people lived on the high ground, to its frantic abandonment.

The pictures of the suffering vied with reports of marauding, of gunshots fired at rescue vehicles and armed bands taking over the streets. The city of quaint eccentricity - of King Cakes, Mardi Gras beads and nice neighbors named Tookie - had taken a Conradian turn.

In the middle of the delayed rescue, the New Orleans mayor, C.Ray Nagin, a local boy made good from a poor, black ward, burst into tears of frustration as he denounced slow moving federal officials and called for martial law.

Even people who had spent a lifetime studying race and class found themselves slack-jawed.…
What Happens to a Race Deferred
By JASON DePARLE


“They waited, and they waited, and then they waited some more in the 90-degree heat, as many as 5,000 people huddled at a highway underpass on Interstate 10, waiting for buses that never arrived to take them away from the storm they could not escape.

Babies cried. The sick huddled in the shade in wheelchairs or rested on cots. Dawn Ray, 40, was in tears, looking after an autistic niece who had soiled herself and her son who is blind and has cerebral palsy. A few others, less patient, simply started walking west with nowhere to go, like a man pushing a
bike in one hand and pulling a shopping cart in another. But most just waited with resigned patience - sad, angry, incredulous, scared, exhausted, people who seemed as discarded as the bottles of water and food containers that littered the ground.

"Disease, germs," one woman, Claudette Paul, said, covering her mouth with a cloth, her voice smoldering with anger. "We need help. We don't live like this in America."

New Orleans has always existed in a delicate balance between land and water, chaos and order, black and white, the very rich and the very poor. It has been the lacy ironwork of French Quarter balconies, the magical shops and galleries on Royal Street and the magisterial cuisine not just at Galatoire's or Mr. B's or Commander's Palace but also at humble po-boy joints and neighborhood restaurants in every part of town.

But it has also been a place of crushing poverty, of dreary housing projects and failing schools, where crime and violence have been an incessant shadow in daily life, as much a part of the local sensibility as the smothering blanket of heat and humidity.

This week, bit by bit, that delicate balance came completely undone. Water took over earth when levees broke, putting 80 percent of the city under water. The mix of fatalism and bravado that allowed the city's biggest fear - a killer hurricane - to become the marquee drink of Bourbon Street gave way to terror and despair and horrifying spasms of looting and violence. New Orleans became unrecognizable not just physically, but psychologically as well. Faced with a disaster of biblical proportions, everything fell apart, and government was either overmatched or slow to the task.…
A Delicate Balance Is Undone in a Flash, and a Battered City Waits
By PETER APPLEBOME, CHRISTOPHER DREW, JERE LONGMAN and ANDREW
REVKIN

con·cept: Why?