The Real Divide

Article excerpt

NEW ORLEANS IS MY HOMETOWN, and most of my family members live there. Right now, they're mainly strewn across south Louisiana and Mississippi, staying with other relatives, with no idea when they'll be able to return even to assess the damage, much less to salvage and reconstruct their lives. So we're all in a kind of limbo, or suspended animation.

By the time this article appears, something like a final death toll from the horror in New Orleans will be known, and there will be dollar figures in the incomprehensible billions assigned to the total damage. We will have been told repeatedly and in definitive tones by gushing talking heads where New Orleans and Katrina in general rank on the all-time list of American catastrophes--none of which, of course, conveys any real sense of what has occurred and its impact on the city and its people.

Everyone who reads The Progressive will know that the horror that has occurred in New Orleans was entirely preventable. For years, the New Orleans Times-Picayune annually had punctuated the hurricane season's arrival with detailed articles warning that the levee system needed shoring up and quite possibly would not survive a category 4 or strong category 3 storm. As many readers know, similar articles in major newspapers and magazines around the country at one time or another had reported on the city's precarious situation and described how much of it could be inundated in case of a storm-induced levee breach. Many will know also that in 2001 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) listed a major hurricane in New Orleans as one of the three most likely disasters in the United States.

Most readers, therefore, will also know that when George W. Bush offered as an explanation for his continuing inaction nearly three days after the city began filling with water that no one could have anticipated that the levee would break, he was a lying sack of shit.

But he was worse than that. He was an active agent in bringing this catastrophe about. Most Progressive readers will know already that the Bush Administration last year slashed funding for the levee project, in part to feed the war on Iraq. The cuts brought work on the project nearly to a standstill. The city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had all emphasized the imminent danger. Their entreaties fell on deaf ears; in fact, the Administration scuttled a Corps of Engineers study of how to protect the city. And this is not even to consider how Bush's wetlands policy made New Orleans more vulnerable by speeding erosion.

Bush finally proclaimed that he takes responsibility. Well, Mable and Salvatore Mangano, operators of St. Rita's nursing home in St. Bernard Parish, were indicted for negligent homicide because thirty-four people died in their facility after the Manganos failed to evacuate them. Bush also should be indicted.

Self-important nincompoop Michael Brown, the abominable former FEMA director and failed horse show lawyer, should be in the dock with him, as should Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary. They should spend the rest of their lives in jail.

Of course, that won't happen. That's not the way things work in the United States.

Bush, after all, was already a mass murderer in Iraq, to the tune of perhaps 100,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 1,900 American soldiers. But it's considered over the top or politically irresponsible to say so plainly.

In any official investigation of Katrina, impeachment for Bush and criminal trials for him, Brown, and Chertoff will never surface as a consideration. The investigation will no doubt focus in flamboyant meticulousness on who knew what when. There will be much back and forth about which agency or branch of government was responsible for which actions or inactions. The federal government's unconscionable delay in response will be explained as an unfortunate circumstance, a concatenation of mistakes and miscommunications, and perhaps some incompetence. …