I’m stuck. If I say what I think about the Bush regime, I’ll evoke defend-at-any-costs apologists, and perhaps convey the impression that I think Democrats can’t be corrupted and don’t make mistakes (even though I’m all the more furious about Bill Clinton’s adultery and mendacity, since it now provides a functional (if bogus) “equivalence” that obscures the scale of the Bush regime’s deception and failures).

Here: there’s no excuse for the negligence that cost the lives of thousands of New Orleanians — particularly, African-American New Orleanians who already endured poverty, exploitative labor conditions, threadbare educational conditions, and the short ends of numerous other sticks — and that cost the material well-being of plenty of working-their-way middle-class New Orleanians. There’s no excuse for suppressing journalists’ access to the catastrophe. There’s no excuse for resisting an independent investigation of these failures.

Jon Stewart (as quoted by Joey) is correct: “Those who complain about the blame game? They’re usually to blame.”

The charge of “racism” comes in various types, in varying degrees of subtlety and deliberation. I doubt that more than a handful of vile hatemongers have taken any satisfaction in the gross disproportion of Black casualties and evacuees — but the shrugs, the self-justifying “who could foresee?” disclaimers, the delays, the evasiveness, the crass manipulation of emergency resources, all testify to an insensitivity that amounts to a great deal more than mere cluelessness. Read through Jeneane’s posts, and then let’s talk about what it adds up to.

Dave and I have disagreed about the semantics of accountability before — I’m relieved to say that at this point, I fully affirm his reflections.

[Later: as I check Google News at 12:41 PM Central Time, there are no stories reporting on the conditions in Louisiana and Mississippi (and I have the page set to show five “National” headlines). Google News highlights one story about how the government is handling the catastrophe, as though the political fallout is the real story, and one on conditions among evacuees in Houston — but in order to learn about people living and dying, coping with disaster, I have to resort to Boing Boing and the Times-Picayune. Does this show the success of the government’s suppression of news coverage of the disaster zone, or has the media’s attention-span just flickered?]

12 thoughts on “Smoldering

  1. at the risk of also getting involved in debates that I would rather avoid…

    I think blaming Bush is simplistic. It feels good. Maybe it’s cathartic. In many ways it’s the cool thing to do right now.

    I do think investigations should be made about how the process failed. However, this thing is bigger than the President’s Administration. The poverty of New Orleans and the racism so evident there exists all over our nation…and has for a long time, under both Democratic and Republican regimes. The city of New Orleans is responsible. The state of Louisianna is responsible. The Federal Government is responsible. The people of God in this nation are responsible. This isn’t a “buck stops here” situation, and if we want those kind of answers we’re looking for a scape-goat more than solutions.

    Seriously, what if this type of disaster happened in most of the cities in America? How would this be different? The rich would get out and the poor would suffer. The poor get used by politicians to win elections, but no one (either party) is really doing anything to make it different.

    Jon Stewart is right about the blame game…and from what I can see, no one wants it to be them. Not the Mayor, not the governer, not the Senators, not Bush. So, they must all be to blame.

    Everyone knew what could happen. It has been predicted over and over. The Mayor, the governer, the president, the pastors, the American people…we all knew what could happen. We also all knew there were people there who couldn’t afford to get out, but what did we do? We all failed New Orleans.

  2. Come on…blaming Bush feels good. Maybe its cathartic.

    But it’s too simplistic. There are a lot of people who don’t want to play the blame game (or be the brunt of it), so I guess there are actually a lot of people to blame.

    The mayor knew, the governor knew, FEMA knew, Congress knew, Bush knew, we all knew this thing could be bad. We all knew about the racism and poverty there (because it’s where we are too). Blaming one person is just an attempt to find a scape-goat, not answers or solutions.

    For those crying out for investigations (which I definitely think should happen), it also ruins any concept of honest investigation when all the conclusions are reached and decided upon a priori.

    btw–I have no vested interest in Bush’s guilt or innocence. It’s just the simplistic nature of trying to blame one person in this deal drives me crazy.

  3. Jimmy, I don’t hold Bush exclusively responsible — that’s why I left claims about responsibility out of the post. I don’t know enough to portion out blame. I do know that Bush and his minions have been the movers behind a series of misadventures, and that they characteristically refuse to acknowledge the scope of the problems their policies engender. Maybe they’re tragically misunderstood, or maybe they blunder and try to cover it up.

  4. I work in emergency preparedness, and all I can say is that there have been failures at all levels. I will say that in a disaster, the actions of the Federal government are completely dependent upon coordination at the state and local levels. Read the text of the Stafford Act to get a clearer picture of what the Federal Government’s role really is in a disaster.

    I think we’re seeing the media attention span flicker. Fortunately, if the volume of calls from people wanting to volunteer is any measure, the attention span of Americans has not flickered yet. I still have a lot of people clamoring to go help.

  5. If you want something to be angry about, why not be angry about the incessant reporting of the hurricane in terms of dollars? In our desire to quantify everything, somehow aggregate insurance value is how we have to look at disaster.

    But here’s my thought on you vs. Bush (if you don’t mind me putting it that way). Doesn’t blaming the president in a situation like this further underwrite the notion that we should look to politics for answers to our problems? I thought you were opposed to that sort of thing, by which I mean salvation through politics.

    Shouldn’t the only focus be on the response of the church to such an event?

  6. Jimmy,

    In the list of people you hold responsible, you either miss or absolve the people of New Orleans. Was that on purpose? Let’s face it, everybody who lived there new the risks … literally for centuries.


    I hope you don’t seriously believe there has been supression of news. By what organ or method. How do you shut up the uncounted newspapers, TV, and other media not to speak of bloggers like yourself. I’m sorry but the better explanation for the “silence” from the rest of Miss. and Louisiana is that the press can’t find enough bad stories with which to blame the Administration and they are just following the herd and all jumping in on the same “big bad” story. If you want to seriously believe in “suppression” I hope you find the need to back it up with actual fact.

  7. It seems to me that there’s a difference between “salvation through politics” and asking a president and his administration to be responsible for how the federal government responds to something. Should we focus on the response of the church? Sure. But I don’t think it’s out of line if part of the church’s response is calling for accountability, nor do I think that calling for accountability means we can’t also be sending money, housing the homeless, etc. The government (at all levels) has particular responsibilities to its people, and if it fails in that responsibility, the people of God may tell it so. That’s part of the legacy left by the Old Testament prophets. It’s one thing to look to politics to solve things we should solve ourselves, or even to tell us the right way to solve things. It’s another to say that the church should ignore the government altogether.

  8. Dearie me, Ned. OK, let’s see.

    I’ll back out of the “responsibility” argument, awaiting the kind of evidence that will make for clearer and more nearly unanimous evaluations. Until then, I remain outraged at how events played out — but I stand ready to learn from exculpatory evidence.

    Mark, I saw reports yesterday that journalists were being obstructed and threatened; today, reporters seem to be operating without restrictions. That, then seems not to explain the relative paucity of news coverage of the actual conditions in the afflicted areas. I would back off on this point, but since “no one could have known” has become a popular refrain, I’m all the more ardently concerned that the full story be told.

    Paul, Beth, I’m trying to speak to the role of the government in this mess on its own terms. Paul’s correct that my theology prompts me to rely on the church rather than on civil agencies — but Beth’s right that one needn’t fall silent when the temporal powers seem to be bungling their self-assigned roles. But that gets us back to assigning blame, and I don’t know more about why it took so long to mobilize civil resources to protect Mississippi and New Orleans than most of my guests here — so I’ll sign off, still outraged on behalf of those who lost so much this past week.

  9. As someone in the thick of it, I wonder if you should turn a critical eye to the media? The story in Mississippi is about UNREAL destruction. Beyond that I see people (about 500 today at our relief center) determined to rebuild AND to help one another. We are seeing groups from as far a way as Canada, many from the east coast, all helping SO much. We have thousands of National Guard here and they are ALL, EVERYONE, so polite and helpful and wonderful to us all. In our center there were white faces and black faces and old faces and young faces and crippled bodies and old bodies and just-born twins bodies. And all were together, bonded in this crazy time where we have all been reduced to just being humans without power or privilege or prestige.
    And yet at a press conference in Biloxi, several media folks just wanted the EOC director to admit that the poor in Mississippi were treated differently than others.
    It just ain’t so. And if the reporters would DO THEIR JOB and REPORT ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON and TALK TO THE PEOPLE – ALL THE PEOPLE they would see a very very different picture.
    Maybe that does not sell papers or CNN ad spots. But it’s the truth. I know it. And today I lived it, seeing Jesus over and over and over again. It was SO very hot and SO very hard and the people, ALL the people were SO very grateful and expressed it.
    There is a different story out there. And it has nothing to do with feeble administrators and aid that is too slow (although we have been pained by both). I wish they would report that.
    And guess what – tomorrow, we do it all over again.

  10. The situation is grim, still. New Orleans may be seeing progress but it is slow and too late to save many lives. The Gulf Coast of Mississppi, no stranger to poverty pre-Katrina, is in terrible shape. Suffering is everywhere. The United Methodist disaster people came first to help us, other aid is trickling in. You may be interested in for Mississippi Gulf Coast activities.

  11. I hope I didn’t overstate things too much. It’s hard to be nuanced in a blog comment. I do agree with exactly what you said in your last comment, AKMA. My concern was that I had heard you speaking first and exclusively (maybe I missed something?) about the political part of things and not at all about the church. You sound sufficiently rebuked 🙂 so I’ll let it go for now. Love ya.

  12. I never was a fan of his, but I do miss Clinton–it was nice to have a President, I’m hoping we’ll have one again some day–still, I remember being hopeful when he was elected.

    I’d always thought, once he was President, we’d see the real Bill Clinton. After only a few weeks, I realized we’d been seeing the real Bill Clinton all along, politically speaking.

    But what really hurt was seeing my mother, now eighty-eight, so proud of having an Arkansawyer in the White House, suffer as his scandals disgraced him, and by reflection, his state.

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