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September 02, 2005 - 10:57 pm


Like most of you, I have been completely overwhelmed by what has taken place in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama over the past week. New Orleans, considered most at risk with the approach of Katrina, seemed at first miraculously spared by the category 5 storm. But as hours ticked by and levees broke, our relief rapidly gave way to panic, despair and disbelief as the reality of Katrina’s impact unfolded as the worst natural disaster in our country’s history with unparalleled loss of life and property.

Just as in September 2001, my own insignificant personal problems have been put on the back burner for the time being and I have again begun praying for others who are going through more right now than my self-centered little mind could ever imagine.

Three of my good friends, Erik, Jenny, and Monica, all have family in New Orleans, but all are fortunate enough to have the means and support to have gotten out safely.

A fellow blogger – a liberal, too – expressed “no sympathy for people who choose not to leave the affected areas before the storm hits.” He says, “It takes a special breed of asshole to make overwhelmed Emergency Services spend time rescuing someone from his roof when there are much more important things to be done – especially when that person had several days' notice that the storm was coming and 100000000 warnings to evacuate.”

What this (undoubtedly) upper middle class, white Chicago suburbanite fails to recognize are the thousands of people who simply do not have the means to evacuate. They are not stupid. They were not stubborn. A low-income, single mother with a couple of kids, no car, and no money really had no way to heed those hundred million warnings. Should she have walked 25 miles to safety with her children on her back? Would that even have been far enough?

My friend Diane owns a children’s book store, and she’s taking up a collection of books to send to children who are being relocated indefinitely to the Astrodome in Houston. When I stopped by her store today, I mentioned that I was considering giving a room in my home to someone for a while – a woman or a woman and a child. She took a phone number out of her pocket and told me that international students from Tulane with nowhere to go are looking for housing anywhere they can find it. It’s not “cash” as our great leader has asked for, but it’s something.

I would be remiss here if I didn’t gripe a bit about the ineptitude of our crack homeland security department, so forgive me for a moment while I bitch at length about that imbecile you conservatives were stupid enough to have elected twice. I watched in mortification from the air-conditioned comfort of the treadmill at my local YMCA (running at 7.5 mph and crying out loud at the same time – and not from the workout) as President Bush gave this horrifically insensitive speech three days ago in the White House Rose Garden, about which the New York Times had this to say:

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.

While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal. (Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company)

Inconceivable as it may seem, the President followed that pearl of statesmanship to which the New York Times refers with this unspeakably inappropriate comment taken from a speech he gave today in Mobile, AL:

PRES. BUSH: The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)

GOV. RILEY: He'll be glad to have you.

I think that just about says it all.


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