Recipe for a Perfect Storm


Hurricane Katrina victims pray after arriving at a warm shelter provided by Baptist Child & Family Services, a human service organization based in San Antonio, Texas. (BCFS.net)
The recipe for a perfect storm is when an economic policy that is devastating to the poor is mixed together by an administrative kitchen of incompetency.

If our response to New Orleans is another demonstration of "compassionate conservatism," then maybe it's time from some "cut-throat liberalism." 

 

If the present administration came to power as a result of "voting our Christian morals," then maybe it's time to change how we define Christian morals. 

 

While it is true that one should not blame the president for the weather, the buck stops with him as to how one prepares for, and responds to, catastrophic weather systems that threatens national security. 

 

The aftermath the world is witnessing in New Orleans is the direct result of a national policy that continues to reward the richest segments of society through tax cuts under the philosophy that "a rising tide lifts all boats." 

 

What we saw is that the boats that got out of New Orleans with the high tide were piloted by and for the privileged of society. Those who had no boats--mostly black, mostly poor--were left behind to drown. 

 

Even when the cavalry finally showed up, it evacuated the 700 guests and employees at the Hyatt Hotel first, before dealing with the city's residents, proving once again that class and white privilege has its perks.

 

In the award-winning 1960s television show "Dragnet," Jack Webb's sidekick would always respond to spin with his signature quote, "Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts." 

 

Within the next few weeks we can expect this administration to begin spinning the New Orleans disaster with the same vigor that it spun the 9/11 disaster. 

 

But unlike New Orleans' unpreparedness to deal with the deluge of hurricane Katrina, let us now prepare for the inundation of misinformation expected from hurricane W. 

  

The first volley occurred when the president told Diane Sawyer that he hoped "people don't play politics during this period of time." 

 

In other words, anyone who questions the administration's mishandling of this crisis is un-American because they are playing politics. What we should be doing is to be mindless, unthinking Americans supporting our president, regardless of whether he is right or wrong, fast or slow. 

 

But at the danger of being accused of playing politics, allow me to play Dragnet by asking for "Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts."

 

Fact number 1: The president declared, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." 

 

But not only was the breach anticipated, it was virtually ignored. Studies that predicted what is happening on the ground today were published as far back as 1998. 

 

In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers' chief resigned in 2002, under threat of being fired, for criticizing the administration's cuts in the corps' budget, specifically in the area of flood-control spending. 

 

When the corps requested $105 million for hurricane and flood programs last year as a preventive measure, the White House slashed it to about $40 million. 

 

Of course, our political leaders did pass the construction of a $250 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska. But then again, there are no poor blacks living on this uninhabited island.

 

Fact number 2: Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water." 

 

The rest of America and the world saw the 25,000 stranded refugees via television a full day before the man responsible for homeland security heard of their distress.

 

Fact number 3: Anyone with a television could see that what New Orleans needed immediately after the winds of Katrina died down was troops on the ground. 

 

Unfortunately, over 30 percent of the National Guard, and over half their equipment are tied up with Bush's war in a country that NEVER attacked us and had NO weapons of mass destruction. 

 

Fact number 4: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been successfully dismantled by this present administration to the point of inefficiency. 

 

Former agency director James Lee Witt, warned Congress: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared." 

 

The president tapped Michael Brown to replace Witt as director of the agency. Brown's qualifications?  He was the former head of the International Arabian Horse Association.

 

Fact number 5: Keep the focus on stories about looting, rape and murder in the darkened streets of New Orleans, stories that further stereotype the lawlessness that many white Americans have come to expect from black communities. 

 

British tourists Mr. Nelson and Jane Wheeldon, both in their 20s, told The Times how they and some 50 other foreigners were told by U.S. Army officials at the Superdome to gather together to protect themselves from resentful local blacks. 

 

"The army told us to stick in a group and for the women to sit in the middle with the men around the outside and to be ready to defend ourselves." 

 

The myth of fearing blacks as rapists is thus reinforced!  By making the actions of a few thugs into the norm of an entire community, the administration can shift all blame to the victims.

 

Fact number 6: Continue to ignore the scientific community's warning of global warming. 

 

While hurricanes have occurred long before global warming became a reality, still, the increase and severity we have come to witness in storms is directly linked to the global greenhouse effect.  But this present administration refuses to believe the scientific data demonstrating that our planet is becoming warmer.

 

Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Bush strummed his guitar in California while New Orleans drowned. 

 

But at least there is some good news for the administration.  Our attention is no longer on the mishandling of Bush's war in Iraq!

 

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

 

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