Saturday, September 10, 2005


I was preparing to go to Lisbon and was in Lisbon during the hurricane and its immediate aftermath and that's why there hasn't been a post on it up till now. There is a massive amount of things to comment on, many of which have already been commented on more eloquently than I can muster at the moment. The onset of flooding and descent into chaos was horrifying, made more so by the obvious lack of governmental intervention during the first days. The lack of both short-term and long-term preparations is beyond baffling, it is infuriating. Both in Edinburgh and Lisbon I had conversations with people asking why my government was so slow to move, and all I could tell them was that most Americans were asking the same questions and being increasingly strident in demanding answers as the hours and days went by. Such a shameful episode for America, to fail our most vulnerable people this profoundly.

From my perspective, there are two major failures. The first one is a governmental organizational failure, and that is obvious enough and has been commented on everywhere. There was lack of communication, lack of preparation, lack of mobilization, and no over-arching game-plan agreed on between various levels of government. But the second failure is an ideological one, and is a kind of rot that has been setting in in our country. It's this large-scale shift to the right, in which the gospel of small government, gutted infrastructure, tax cuts for the wealthy, reduced social spending, social darwinism, opposition to equal opportunity measures, denial of affordable health care, and massively expensive (not to mention horrendously misguided and dangerous) foreign policy has been pushed forth repeatedly. Like David Wessel wrote in the Wall Street Journal (article subscription only), Katrina ended the era of small government. Note that this opinion is coming from the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. Even they can apparently see the writing on the wall, that it is desirable and the right thing to do to have a strong government that looks after its people, can respond to crises, can make sure that no one falls through the cracks as hard as the poorest residents of New Orleans did. This doesn't necessitate massive, bloated bureaucracy. The Grover Norquists of the world had their day and blew it big time, dragging our country down with them. Look at what even the conservative Friedman has to say to the despicable and massively influential GOP guru Norquist. Theirs is a failed ideology.

One silver lining was the performance of the media, who did brilliantly and refused to play nice with the administration, and other local and state officials, when the incompetence became painfully obvious (e.g. FEMA head Michael Brown commenting on Thursday that he had only just found out that people were stranded in the Superdome). So you had people like Anderson Cooper, Aaron Brown, Tim Russert, Ted Koppel, even Shephard Smith at Fox, asking for accountability and generally tearing Michael Brown a new one. Eric Alterman commends them here and here.

There had better be soul-searching long into the future with regards to both of the types of failure mentioned above, because there is a hell of a lot of rot in our country. I think Katrina could cause a shift in our national consciousness much more profound than even 9/11 did, and I so strongly hope that the introspection over time leads our country to a more compassionate, socially just and fair society. I can't tell you how much this episode has soured my view of the current state of the US.

All of the Daily Show hurricane segments are worth watching, and I thought Brian Williams's interview was particularly good.

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