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To understand what's happening in New Orleans, you need to see the town before Katrina arrived.

New Orleans is, like so many United States cities, a town divided. There are the well to do communities, like the Garden District, where author Anne Rice owns several properties and MTV's The Real World spent a season getting to know "seven strangers picked to live in a mansion" back in 2000. But there are also people living in that town that are at or below the poverty line. The Slums of New Orleans are notorious for holding some of the toughest criminals on the streets of any US city. But let's take a step back for a moment. We need some sociological context before we start labeling people.

We're all human beings here. We all have the exact same basic needs. We need clean water. We need clean air. We need a balanced diet. We need a place to live, sleep, bathe. We also need a way to pay for those things: a job that covers our expenses and leaves us enough time to be able to do those other things. If we want more than the basics, then we need to earn more money somehow. If we want to have a partner and raise a familly, then that needs to be added in to the amount. And if we want to provide our family with something more than the bare minimum, then that costs too. This home economics reminder is a part of this story because in the worst neighborhoods of this (or any) town, people are barely scraping by. Just like every ghetto in every US city, New Orleans version of same is ignored by the Upper Class, by the politicians, and is avoided by anyone who can. There is nothing that can be done to correct it, so ignore it.

This particular area of town is overcrowded with people. It's difficult living, even under the best possible conditions. These are people who haven't had a good education, who don't eat well, and who are subjected to all of the things found in a borderline neighborhood, the drugs, alcohol, crime and psychological trauma that is always found there, where people have no opportunities.

There is no real interest in the lives of people who live there, and even the police, long noted for turning a blind eye to much of the city's crime, have been known to stay out of the way of some of these thugs and gang members. The Wild West took a turn south.

With such powderkeg conditions, it's clear that anything that upset the status quo would cause some very serious consequences.

Next, you need to look at FEMA. The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report in 2000 that is getting a lot of attention now, in the wake of two events. Back around the turn of the millennium, they advised that the three most likely disasters to befall the USA would be: a terrorist attack in New York, a hurricane striking New Orleans and an earthquake in San Francisco. This report also went on to advise methods that could be used to strengthen the NOLA levee system, help with the pumping stations and replenish the wetlands, the natural borders for the region that could serve as a waterbreak for the city.

After the first disaster, the predicted terrorist attack on New York, George W. Bush declared war on Iraq. Well, he didn't actually "declare war," but he committed troops and money to capturing Saddam Hussein, to finding the Weapons of Mass Destruction he held, and to "bringing democracy to the Iraqi people."

The sociological mistakes involved in all of that are far too involved to discuss here without spinning off on a right angle, so let's just say that the key point related to our story is that money earmarked to shore up the New Orleans levee system and to help with improvements in the infrastructure to the town was redirected to the Iraq affair. And National Guardsmen from Lousiana were among those sent to be "peacekeepers" in Baghdad. About 30 percent of the Louisana National Guard are in Iraq as of this week.

Finally, there is The President and His Cabinet. There was always an undercurrent of elitism radiating from George W. Bush. He is one of the privileged: the son of a US President. The question is does George W. Bush actually care about everyone?

The answer is, quite clearly, no. We know that President Bush doesn't care about everyone. We know this for certain because one person, a mother named Cindy Sheehan, quietly and patently waited to speak to the leader of the country about the death of her son, Casey, a soldier in his Iraqi conflict. Mr. Bush refused to speak with her, or even acknowledge her. Would a caring, compassionate man refuse to take a meeting with a grieving parent who simply wanted a few minutes to discuss the situation with him? Of course not.

Now, I'm sure some would argue that perhaps this goes against government policy, that the President does not have to take a meeting with the parent of one of his troops to discuss anything with her. But sometimes being a good leader means going beyond the required rules. And really, that's the key Mr. Bush's problem throughout his tenure in the Oval Office. He does the minimum daily requirement, and then he's off to his ranch to have some laughs, play a few rounds of golf with Dad, or to while away a weekend at Camp David, in constant need of maintaining the lifestyle to which he has been accustomed. When they write his biography and they get to his time in Washington DC, you won't read any chapter headings titled, "The People's President."

The other issue with GWB is his personal view. He doesn't acknowledge that he makes mistakes. Even in the 2004 Presidential Debate, when he was asked a direct question about any mistakes he might have made during his first term, he never gave an answer. With such a complex and telling psychology, and an overly coddled ego that seems in perpetual need of stroking, trouble seemed destined.

You can tell a great deal about a leader based on how he responds during a crisis. Almost exactly four years ago, this country faced a crisis unlike any other it had faced before. And The President showed us exactly how he handled the situation. He was confused, unfocused, unclear and unprepared. It took him several hours to figure out where he needed to go, and when he got there, it took him another day or two to figure out what to say. He heroically arrived at what we now refer to as Ground Zero, said some inspirational words into a bullhorn for the clean up crew (and, more importantly, for the assembled media cameras) before heading on his way.

Now that we've set the stage, all of that brings us to this moment: Katrina.

In so many ways, the situation in New Orleans dwarfs that of 9/11. Just under four thousand people were lost in the terrorist attacks in 2001, and the property damage, though incredible, was relatively confined to a small section of lower Manhattan and part of the Pentagon in Washington DC. This time, an entire major metropolis has been hit with a hurricane, coastal towns have been literally wiped off the map, and countless thousands of people are dead or missing or at least homeless. This is still unfolding, and the situation is changing from minute to minute. The city is still sitting in water that won't go out on it's own. It has to be pumped out. But the pumps can't work until electricity is restored. And they won't be effective until the levees are fully repaired. And that won't happen for weeks.

It's also important to remember that these flood waters are now toxic. Filled with sewage, garbage, gasoline, dead animals and human remains that have been there for days, people must wade through or swim in this muck just to try to get through the labyrinth of streets, many of which are still watery dead ends.

There have been televised reports of looting. There have also been other reports of snipers shooting at helicopters. Rapes. Murders.

Once again, in a place where humans are not valued as much as other humans, humanity erodes. When you can't find work, when you don't get the help and support you need, when you are living in despair, any opportunity to feel better about yourself is taken. And as a human, when you aren't treated the same way as someone else, you know it. You process that. You sublimate that. You tattoo that onto your heart. It becomes a part of you. Such is the case in the most impoverished neighborhoods of this town, and the people who live there. If you can't work but you need money, the choices available narrow very quickly. It is in no way an excuse for this behavior. It's a by-product of how people have lived, without being at the same basic level as everyone else.

But what does this have to do with Katrina? Plenty. 80% of the residents of NOLA evacuated the area. That left 20%: the poorest who were either not able or too afraid to leave their homes. Those would be the vast majority of people you see on the newscasts, either standing on rooftops waving for helicopter rescue, standing inside or around one of two domed stadia in one of two cities, or breaking and entering any of a host of establishments to get anything from potato chips, to clothing for their kids, to a large screen television.

The initial reaction by most citizens is to be outraged that people are behaving in such a lawless manner. But, in our sociological experiment, we've stacked the deck and have proven the point. When you are treated in a way that is less than human, you also dissolve into behavior that is less than human.

The people in this neighborhood are oppressed. There's no other way to describe it. They have so little and they have just lost what they have. Now, they're on the street and trying to stay alive however they can. No one ever noticed them before, certainly not on a national level. They're finally getting some attention. Forget "Survivor." This is the ultimate reality. And here's the twist. It's all real.

President Bush gave a speech, flanked by the two previous Presidents, his dad, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. And this is where we can truly see just what Mr. Bush understands about this situation.

During the speech, he took a leisurely pace to describe the element of moving oil and gas to various parts of the country because of the crisis. Granted, the situation with oil and gas is a crucial one, since that has started affecting prices at the pump across the country. However, how could a compassionate president even think to discuss the price of gas before fully addressing the people who are dying on the streets? How can anyone with a caring heart worry about business before the lives of his citizens?

Even Nero fiddled when Rome burned. Here, we don't even have proper music to listen to as everything comes crashing. All of Bush's cabinet made "lip service" style presentations, followed by cursory answers to questions from the media. There was no sense of urgency from anyone. Throats were cleared, situations explained to us as if we didn't know that a hurricane just struck the gulf coast and that the problem was doubly difficult because this hurricane damaged several levees and flooded the town. There was no timetable as to when the relief would come, who would be in charge of bringing it, what plans were in place to help evacuate the entire city, and how these people could be fed, given water and proper shelter when they are rescued.

There is an old adage: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." Bush and his buddies were saying that help is on the way, but they said it without any true concern in their voices or on their faces. It's all too obvious. After President Bush gave his speech from the White House, he smiled and turned to shake the hands of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush, as though he had just solved all of the trouble in the region. Mission Accomplished, yet again. A handclasp and a backslap.

So, now what? With no telephones, no electricity and no method of contacting people, many of us outside of the affected area are still waiting to hear from friends, family and others to make certain that they are ok. With no way of getting information to the people still trapped, they don't know what to do, they don't know where to go.

Bush, with his leisurely paced attitude, is effectively helping to kill a lot of the people trapped there. There are murders being committed by the crazed in that city, as things get more and more desperate. And there are the infirmed who should be getting oxygen or dialysis treatments, or simply need some fresh water.

And now, belatedly and finally, help has arrived. 4 and a third days after the initial strike on the region, The President appears on the ground to survey the situation firsthand. And the top priority? Making sure all of America sees it. Two girls run to him, clearly grief-stricken and sobbing, and he puts his arm around each of them and turns them outward so a photog can get the shot. He still thinks all of this is one big media op for his presidential lie-berry.

Bush has rescued the Gulf Coast. He has saved everyone there with his efforts. It was a struggle, but we got you the aid you need. So remember to vote Republican in the next election. The next question is how long will it take to get food, water and supplies to everyone there? Who is coordinating the efforts to make sure it all happens in a quick and orderly fashion? Certainly not The President, who is too busy mugging for the cameras. I was reminded of last year's Hurricane Charley, where he visited his brother, the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. The President picked up a bag of ice to appear to hand it to someone, then put it right back down after the photo was taken. That's the kind of help this man offers.

How will all of this end? I fear the worst. I fear we will find that thousands of people were killed during the hurricane and flooding. But some of the people who had survived Katrina and the ensuing levee breaches will have died because of the neglectful ways of this adminsitration. We already know that Bush's choice to mount an attack on Iraq is part of the reason why the devastation to New Orleans is so cataclysmic. That is a fact that cannot be denied or underestimated. The chickens are coming home to roost.

I just hope that FEMA's report is wrong for once and that the Big One doesn't hit SF. This president could never handle it.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 2nd, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
Truly excellent. Am printing out to re-read in depth, and linking, hope that's ok!
Sep. 2nd, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
brilliant, dean.
Sep. 2nd, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
Oops, can't link, it's private! Wish it were a public post, there's a lot of good stuff here.
Sep. 2nd, 2005 08:22 pm (UTC)
I just read that the median income for African Americans in NOLA is $11,332 or so. Median.
Sep. 2nd, 2005 08:48 pm (UTC)
Yes. Thank you.
Sep. 2nd, 2005 09:19 pm (UTC)
Extremely well written.
Sep. 3rd, 2005 02:26 am (UTC)
Gosh, what an action packed administration. We've had Floods, Terrorist strikes, 2 wars and a model was almost killed in a tsunami. This would've made a real good Michael Bay movie.

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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