Saturday, September 2, 2006

Say hello to

Gentilly Girl. She's one of the many good folks from New Orleans who's been exiled since the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Friday, September 1, 2006

When the Levees Collapsed

Thanks to my man Arcturus in the comments, I got the word that Lenin's Tomb has kindly put the first two parts of Spike Lee's joint When the Levees Collapsed on YouTube, and will have the remaining two parts up shortly (update: Lenin's Tomb is in the process of posting parts three and four of this intense documentary! Make sure to read his commentary.). Let's just say that this is one of those documentaries that truly deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, as soon as possible.

My first reaction is to note that this particular documentary will hit you right in the gut. There's nothing sugar-coated about Spike's presentation of the decimation experienced by so many, or about the failure of authorities to act in a timely manner. It's definitely not a feel-good movie, nor should it be. Nor, for that matter, do we as a nation need to be "feeling good" about ourselves or the direction that our nation has been heading as so graphically exemplified by the neglect of a whole city (really a whole region) both before and after last summer's disaster.

Keep the kleenex handy - if you have any shred of humanity left in you, you'll shed a few tears and be plenty pissed off.

But whatever you do, don't ignore these human beings whose stories deserve to be shouted from mountaintop to mountaintop.


(Noticed my typo on the title this morning. That'll teach me to try to blog anything of substance after 1:30 am!)

Say hello to

Tomkitty's scratching post. Tomkitty is the husband of the blogger behind Hepkitty's litter box.

Let's just say his joint is fresh, so go over there and give this cat some love.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wanna challenge the system?

Planning a trip into the Belly of the Beast (aka Washington, DC)? If so, here are some action ideas by Faith (via Mickey Z's Cool Observer blog):
THINGS TO DO IN WASHINGTON DC (with thanks and apologies to “V for Vendetta"): Political Passive Aggressive Resistance


There is no leader, no organization, just individuals, participating in small groups with their friends and traveling companions. Doing things you would do if on vacation in DC. You could just to one thing for a short time, or take a location and work it.

1. All you need is a t-shirt that you can iron on, sharpie on, paint on…
FRONT: I’ve Had Enough—Have you?
BACK: Have you Had —ENOUGH?
(Be nice if there were “clear” sky blue...)

2. Get Metro passes, travel to various Metro Stations, during rush hours (morning and evening) to take up every available seat. Make the Washington Workers STAND. Bollux up their day. Make sure to linger staring at the Metro Maps at Union Station, and at the larger stops.

3. Protesters to each of the airports on Thursday afternoons and Monday mornings. This is when Senators and Representatives travel to and from home. Most of them DO fly commercial. Gather in groups no larger than 10 (if you look like a “rally” you’ll be arrested). Stand or sit on EVERY bench at the entrances/exits. Keep riding the escalators. FILL THEM UP. Get on the moving sidewalks and FILL THEM UP. Go to the bars, take a stool at the bar FILL THEM UP. Go ahead and have a beer just take an hour or two to drink it.

4. Protesters to the busiest intersections. Just 3 on each corner would be enough, keep pressing the “Walk” button.

5. Protesters at the lunch hour 5 to a group, walk the sidewalks, SLOWLY. From curb to building fill the sidewalk arm in arm. Most people in Washington walk to lunch. Let’s slow them down. Stand in the lines at the hot dog carts, fill the booths (they can have the tables).

6. Call your Senator or Representative and request a ticket to tour the White House, Capitol Building. Just about every state has a room to meet in. Go in groups of 2 or more but less than 10.

7. Visit any of the Smithsonian Museums in groups of 3 to 10. Take a school classroom, let them make the T-shirt they will wear in DC.

8. Ride the tourist trolley.

9. In small groups go to the Washington Offices of CNN, FOX, etc. Walk through the lobby, ask for a tour.

Don’t talk or engage in political debate.

KEEP MOVING: If you loiter, you WILL be arrested.

Be everywhere.

Answer questions when you are asked. Share any message you want. The only agenda here is the peoples’ agenda and YOU are the PEOPLE. Let me know when you’re ready to go, I’m thinking maybe September? Say the 10th through the 12th???

I won't be in DC any time soon, but I do think it's a cool idea. Also, it seems like a form of action that could be undertaken in a variety of locations in addition to DC. Any takers?

The facelift

You should be seeing some changes around here that hopefully will make visiting this blog a more pleasant experience. I'll be working out a few bugs, I suspect, so feel free to give me a shout out if something seems amiss.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kaoru Abe

You can read more about the man and his music here. I've tracked down a number of his albums (both solo and collaborations) thanks to the miracle of peer-to-peer file sharing, and I'll simply note that his work is very intense - Albert Ayler intense. The video is actually one of Abe's mellower moments.

Upcoming site updates

If all goes well, hopefully I will be giving the blog a bit of a facelift within the next couple weeks. I'm toying with some ideas right now. Not to worry - the finished product will look fairly similar, but hopefully will function a bit better.

Katrina: The failure of a nation

That's what's in the spotlight over at Human Beams - four articles that sum up the state of life in Post-Katrina New Orleans:

A year ago today we watched in horror, on live TV, as thousands of human beings within a US city were abandoned by their government and left to fend for themselves for days on end. The blame may belong to a few - the shame belongs to us all.

Here are some of the stories of that time.

We will also be adding links to other resources, studies and memories as time goes on.

Lakeview and the Ninth Ward, August 3, 2006
Lakeview is the New Orleans neighborhood closest to the 17th Street canal, which broke wide open that day and flooded a large percentage of the city. Lakeview sustained tremendous damage from the force of the rushing floodwaters. Entire blocks of homes were wiped off their foundations. - Photo Essay

Hopes and Homes: Subject to Seizure On Katrina’s Anniversary
Despite these obstacles, New Orleans will begin seizing not just houses—but also the hopes of returning home—from devastated communities on the anniversary of our nation’s greatest tragedy.

Trying to Make It Home: New Orleans One Year After Katrina
Thousands of people like Ms. Mosely are back in their houses on the Gulf Coast. They are living in houses that most people would consider, at best, still under construction, or, at worst, uninhabitable. Like Ms. Mosely, they are trying to make their damaged houses into homes.

This is no way to treat our fellow Americans
And now we hear that there are trailers that are sitting on people's home sites but are locked and the families have been unable to get FEMA to help. This is a full year after the mass devastation and FEMA is still giving excuses as opposed to assistance.

"Happy days are here again..."

While Baby Doc Bush is promising a fake turkey in every pot - on the condition of more and more tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% - the reality suggests that all is not well in the land of milk and honey:
US Data Show One in Eight Americans in Poverty
By Joanne Morrison

Tuesday 29 August 2006

Washington - In the world's biggest economy one in eight Americans and almost one in four blacks lived in poverty last year, the US Census Bureau said on Tuesday, releasing a figure virtually unchanged from 2004.

The survey also showed 15.9 percent of the population, or 46.6 million, had no health insurance, up from 15.6 percent in 2004 and the fifth increase in a row.

It was the first year since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate did not increase. As in past years, the figures showed poverty especially concentrated among blacks and Hispanics.

In all, some 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line, defined as having an annual income below around $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a family of four.

The last decline in poverty was in 2000, the final year of Bill Clinton's presidency, when it fell to 11.3 percent.


Around a quarter of blacks and 21.8 percent of Hispanics were living in poverty. Among whites, the rate edged down to 8.3 percent from 8.7 percent in 2004.

"Among African Americas the problem correlates primarily to the inner-city and single mothers," said Tanner, adding that blacks also suffer disproportionately from poor education and lower quality jobs.

Black median income, at $30,858, was only 61 percent of the median for whites.

Some 17.6 percent of children under 18 and one in five of those under 6 were in poverty, higher than for any other age group.

Midweek meanderings

As I think back to 8-29-2005, or to the turbulence that has afflicted all of us on this aching planet in one way or another I can't help but hope for better days ahead. That hope, however faint, is what keeps me going - part of the life instinct perhaps as one searches around the next corner, under the next rock, across the next stream in search of sustenance, nourishment, meaning.

Survival even under the most optimal conditions is never an easy proposition. These times we live in are far from optimal. I hear many friends and acquaintances pin their hopes on the next savior, the next knight in shining armor, the next John Wayne to somehow save us at the last minute. The myth of the B-Movie is that there is always a hero to come along at the last minute to save the day. I don't place my hopes in some mythical hero, as reality is far from B-Movie Hollywood fare. Instead, I find it healthier, far more productive to accept that all we've got is ourselves and each other. If we're going to make it through the next crisis, the next challenge, we need to rely on our inner strength and on those around us. That's all there is, all there ever was.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurricane expert threatened for pre-Katrina warnings

That's the title of a recent Greg Palast article, which features Ivor van Heerden, Deputy Director of the LSU Hurricane Center, and his dealings with those supposedly responsible for the well-being of New Orleans residents:
Here’s the story you haven’t been told. And the man who revealed it to me, Dr. Ivor van Heerden, is putting his job on the line to tell it.

Van Heerden isn’t the typical whistleblower I usually deal with. This is no minor player. He’s the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. He’s the top banana in the field — no one knew more about how to save New Orleans from a hurricane’s devastation. And no one was a bigger target of an official and corporate campaign to bury the information.

Here’s what happened. Right after Katrina swamped the city, I called Washington to get a copy of the evacuation plan.


Specifically, I’m talking about the plan that was written, or supposed to have been written two years ago by a company called, “Innovative Emergency Management.”

Weird thing about IEM, their founder Madhu Beriwal, had no known experience in hurricane evacuations. She did, however, have a lot of experience in donating to Republicans.

IEM and FEMA did begin a draft of a plan. The plan was that, when a hurricane hit, everyone in the Crescent City would simply get the hell out in their cars. Apparently, the IEM/FEMA crew didn’t know that 127,000 people in the city didn’t have cars. But Dr. van Heerden knew that. It was his calculation. LSU knew where these no-car people were — they mapped it — and how to get them out.

Dr. van Heerden offered this life-saving info to FEMA. They wouldn’t touch it. Then, a state official told him to shut up, back off or there would be consequences for van Heerden’s position. This official now works for IEM.

So I asked him what happened as a result of making no plans for those without wheels, a lot of them elderly and most of them poor.

“Fifteen-hundred of them drowned. That’s the bottom line.” The professor, who’d been talking to me in technicalities, changed to a somber tone. “They’re still finding corpses.”

Van Heerden is supposed to keep his mouth shut. He won’t. The deaths weigh on him. “I wasn’t going to listen to those sort of threats, to let them shut me down.”

Van Heerden had other disturbing news. The Hurricane Center’s computer models showed the federal government had built the levees around the city a foot-and-a-half too short.

After Katrina, the Hurricane Center analyzed the flooding and found that, had the levees had just that extra 18 inches, they would have been “overtopped” for only an hour and a half, not four hours. In that case, the levees would have held, and the city would have been saved.

He had taken the warning about the levees all the way to George Bush’s doorstep. “I myself briefed senior officials including somebody from the White House.” The response: the university’s trustees threatened his job.

While in Baton Rouge, I dropped in on the headquarters of IEM, the evacuation contractors. The assistant to the CEO insisted they had “a lot of experience with evacuation” — but couldn’t name a single city they’d planned for when they got the Big Easy contract. And still, they couldn’t produce the plan.

An IEM press release in June 2004 boasted legendary expert James Lee Witt as a member of their team. That was impressive. It was also a lie. In fact, Witt had nothing to do with it. When I asked IEM point blank if Witt’s name was used as a fraudulent hook to get the contract, their spokeswoman said, weirdly, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

Back at LSU, van Heerden astonished me with the most serious charge of all. While showing me huge maps of the flooding, he told me the White House had withheld the information that, in fact, the levees were about to burst and by Tuesday at dawn the city, and more than a thousand people, would drown.

Van Heerden said, “FEMA knew on Monday at 11 o’clock that the levees had breached… They took video. By midnight on Monday the White House knew. But none of us knew …I was at the State Emergency Operations Center.” Because the hurricane had missed the city that Monday night, evacuation effectively stopped, assuming the city had survived.

It’s been a full year now, and 73,000 New Orleanians remain in FEMA trailers and another 200,000, more than half the city’s former residents, remain in temporary refuges. “The City That Care Forgot” — that’s their official slogan — lost a higher percentage of homes than Berlin lost in World War II. It would be more accurate to call it, “The City That Bush Forgot.”
The punchline is who got the contract to develop the new NOLA evacuation plan. Hint: the same people who fucked up last August. Let's just say that if someone named Bush or Chertoff ever says "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" run. Disaster isn't far behind.

The Lush/Zany regime's accomplishments

A year after Katrina, Paul Krugman finds that "In America as in Iraq, reconstruction delayed is reconstruction denied," and the WSWS describes "a national humiliation without parallel in the history of the United States." Plus: 'Brown says White House wanted him to lie.'

As President Bush makes a 'Return to the Scene of the Crime,' to fight for his image, Frank Rich quotes historian Douglas Brinkley as saying that "the crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate....The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state."

Among the experts who say that critical U.S. infrastructure is 'coming apart at the seams,' is one Homeland Security analyst who warns that the U.S. risks becoming "the modern-day equivalent of the walled medieval city that responds to the arrival of the Black Death by widening the moat."

The New York Times reports that "wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960s."

Chronicling 'Bush's Disdainful Presidency,' Robert Parry writes that degrading treament of other people has been "a recurring part of Bush's persona dating back at least to his days as an 'enforcer' on his father's presidential campaigns."

Props to The Sideshow.

Post-Katrina by the numbers

Via The Carpetbagger Report, here’s the reality on the ground, as opposed to the fantasyland Bush lives in where toilets in yards are an optimistic sign and unicorn piss is the magic elixir that will fix everything:

* Less than half of the city's pre-storm population of 460,000 has returned, putting the population at roughly what it was in 1880.

* Nearly a third of the trash has yet to be picked up.

* Sixty percent of homes still lack electricity.

* Seventeen percent of the buses are operational.

* Half of the physicians have left, and there is a shortage of 1,000 nurses.

* Six of the nine hospitals remain closed.

* Sixty-six percent of public schools have reopened.

* A 40 percent hike in rental rates, disproportionately affecting black and low-income families.

* A 300 percent increase in the suicide rate.
Nerdified link. No amount of photo-ops will change that.

Footnote to the preceding

Check out the latest comments over at Hurricane Katrina That'll give you a bit more of a bird's eye view if you will.

Katrina's Aftermath: A Case Study in Organizational and Systemic Violence

First things first: Lenin's Tomb has updated its Hurricane Katrina dossier. Well worth taking a look-see.

I've mentioned the concepts of organizational and systemic violence before. As a refresher:
We define organizational violence as physical harm (including death) resulting from decisions made by those acting in an official capacity. The decision to go to war in Iraq, with the ensuing casualties is but one example... Systemic violence refers to physical harm (including death) suffered by a particular group of people who do not have access to the same services and benefits as the rest of society. Deaths caused by lack of access to health insurance and healthcare would be viewed as systemic violence - the same would be said about deaths caused to black Americans who are systematically denied access to necessary healthcare.
A former peace studies professor from my undergrad days would probably lump both under the rubric of "institutional violence", and not being one to split hairs I'm perfectly content with that term as well.

What does all this have to do with the state of the supposed recovery from Hurricane Katrina, you might ask. Simply stated, quite a lot actually:
Far from being merely incompetence or cruel indifference during a natural disaster, it was a shocking crime perpetrated on the poor. Not merely underfunding and poor planning: they had a plan, but it didn't include helping the poor. Not merely neglect, but the conscious blockading of the city, the refusal of aid, and the eventual imposition of martial law. Not merely the inability to house 'refugees', but the deliberate use of the situation to impose a plan for turning New Orleans into a Disneyland for rich yuppies.

How's it looking now? Well:
We are still finding dead bodies. Ten days ago, workers cleaning a house in New Orleans found a body of a man who died in the flood. He is the 23rd person found dead from the storm since March.

Over 200,000 people have not yet made it back to New Orleans. Vacant houses stretch mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood. Thousands of buildings remain marked with brown ribbons where floodwaters settled. Of the thousands of homes and businesses in eastern New Orleans, 13 percent have been re-connected to electricity.

The mass displacement of people has left New Orleans older, whiter and more affluent. African Americans, children and the poor have not made it back – primarily because of severe shortages of affordable housing.

Thousands of homes remain just as they were when the floodwaters receded – ghost-like houses with open doors, upturned furniture, and walls covered with growing mold.

Not a single dollar of federal housing repair or home reconstruction money has made it to New Orleans yet. Tens of thousands are waiting. Many wait because a full third of homeowners in the New Orleans area had no flood insurance. Others wait because the levees surrounding New Orleans are not yet as strong as they were before Katrina and fear re-building until flood protection is more likely. Fights over the federal housing money still loom because Louisiana refuses to clearly state a commitment to direct 50 percent of the billions to low and moderate income families.

Meanwhile, 70,000 families in Louisiana live in 240-square-foot FEMA trailers – three on my friend’s street. As homeowners, their trailer is in front of their own battered home. Renters are not so fortunate and are placed in gravel strewn FEMA-villes across the state. With rents skyrocketing, thousands have moved into houses without electricity.

Meanwhile, privatization of public services continues to accelerate.

Public education in New Orleans is mostly demolished and what remains is being privatized. The city is now the nation’s laboratory for charter schools – publicly funded schools run by private bodies. Before Katrina the local elected school board had control over 115 schools – they now control 4. The majority of the remaining schools are now charters.

The metro area public schools will get $213 million less next school year in state money because tens of thousands of public school students were displaced last year. At the same time, the federal government announced a special allocation of $23.9 million which can only be used for charter schools in Louisiana. The teachers union, the largest in the state, has been told there will be no collective bargaining because, as one board member stated, “I think we all realize the world has changed around us.”

Public housing has been boarded up and fenced off as HUD announced plans to demolish 5,000 apartments – despite the greatest shortage of affordable housing in the region’s history. HUD plans to let private companies develop the sites. In the meantime, the 4,000 families locked out since Katrina are not allowed to return.

The broken city water system is losing about 85 million gallons of water in leaks every day. That is not a typo, 85 million gallons of water a day, at a cost of $200,000 a day, are still leaking out of the system even after over 17,000 leaks have been plugged. Michelle Krupa of the Times-Picayune reports that the city pumps 135 million gallons a day through 80 miles of pipe in order for 50 million gallons to be used. We are losing more than we are using; the repair bill is estimated to be $1 billion – money the city does not have.

Public healthcare is in crisis. Our big public hospital has remained closed, and there are no serious plans to reopen it. A neighbor with cancer who has no car was told that she has to go 68 miles away to the closest public hospital for her chemotherapy.

Mental health may be worse. In the crumbling city and in the shelters of the displaced, depression and worse reign. Despite a suicide rate triple what it was a year ago, we have lost half of our psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health care workers, the New York Times reports.
Nerdified link. One would also do well to read through Lavelle and Feagin's recent article, Hurricane Katrina: The Race and Class Debate for further historical and theoretical analysis. We've got the whole gamut here - whole groups of people based on class and ethnicity who've been systematically shut out of adequate housing, medical care, the ability to rebuild homes, and so on based largely on bureacratic decisions by the powers that be at various levels. We have entrenched elites in NOLA who no doubt are playing their part to ethnically cleanse the city in order to refashion it as a "Disneyland for yuppies" complete with its own Trump tower. Mayor Nagin's much ballyhooed "100 day plan" to rebuild the broken areas of the city? What a joke!

Bureaucratic decisions made long ago that left levees vulnerable and a large portion of NOLA without access to transportation, along with decisions on how to handle the search and rescue effort led to upwards of 1800 dead (and apparently counting). The decisions that have created the current healthcare crisis in the city have no doubt put many more people - especially those least able to afford our byzantine form of healthcare - in harm's way. The decisions that have led to the waste of trailers (how many are still languishing unused in Hope, AR?) have been partially responsible for the current diaspora of NOLA residents.

There not much we can do about the conditions mother nature throws at us. There are things that we can do collectively to mitigate the harm caused by natural disasters. In recalling my reaction last year to the news of the sheer scope of the hurrricane then about to batter the Gulf Coast region, I could only pray that the levees held and that all the stops would be pulled to help those most in need. Those prayers went unanswered, and prior decisions by the government instead aggravated what would have already been a bad situation.

This year's hurricane season has thankfully been much quieter than last year's. God help anyone in the path of any storm that makes it ashore this season. You sure won't get it from the people who gleefully take your tax dollars.

See also Alexa's In Memory of New Orleans:
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
New Orleans is still in intensive care. If you have seen recent television footage of New Orleans, you probably have a picture of how bad the housing situation is. What you cannot see is that the rest of the institutions, the water, the electricity, healthcare, jobs, educational system, criminal justice systems -- are all just as broken as the housing. New Orleans remains in serious trouble. Like most Louisiana natives, you probably wonder where has the promised money gone.
With hurricane season about to make landfall in just over a week, one scientist is wondering if we will learn from the tragic lessons taught by Katrina. Dr. Ivor van Heerden was at the center of the storm, so to speak, as co-founder and deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. In his new book, “The Storm,” he explains what went wrong and why we must heed scientific warnings, now, in order to prevent repeating the past. Here's an excerpt.
By eight o’clock Monday night, August 29 — almost fourteen hours after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina — even I was tempted to join in the back slapping at the state’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Baton Rouge. Using every available megaphone, I’d been warning for years about the inevitable catastrophe that would befall New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana: a total drowning. So had all of my colleagues and many other scientists who had studied the lay of the land.
It was bound to happen, sooner or later. It could have happened with Katrina, if she had tracked just twenty miles to the west and on a northwesterly course. Earlier studies using our now famous storm-surge computer model at LSU had showed that hypothetical catastrophe clearly. On Katrina’s actual course, our model still predicted the flooding in New Orleans and in the parishes to the east and south, but most of these areas had flooded before, never disastrously. They could be drained quickly, with minimal permanent damage. On Monday night, this is what we thought.

And now the Crescent City had apparently managed to keep its head above water once again; it would live to sweat out the next big storm. So it seemed at eight o’ clock Monday night, and I was packing up to leave when a young staffer walked into our cubicle at the EOC and said he’d just picked up a call from a nursing home that had taken in two feet of water, and it had risen half a foot in just the last hour.
Fresh or saline? That was my first thought, because it’s always the question about unwanted water in New Orleans. If it’s fresh, it’s rainwater — a normal flood; if salty, Lake Pontchartrain (which is actually brackish), and this might mean a serious breach of the lakefront levee system on the northern side of the city. We didn’t have the results of the taste test in the nursing home, we didn’t even know where that home was, but surely the Army Corps of Engineers, which had built the levees and whose cubicle in the EOC was right next to ours, would have known about a lakeside breach and somehow been able to spread the word. On the other hand, Katrina and the heavy rain were long gone. Why the rapidly rising water now? The tiniest little chill ran up my spine.
Weeks after Hurricane Katrina, survivors searched for displaced family members on KatrinaBlog.
I dont even no were to start it was just a mess im from new orleans and was at the super dome. i fell very betrayed.

we were not bad people. alot of people dont understand in new orleans u did not need a car. the bus ran all day and all night so thats why alot of people were at the super dome and the convention center.
i cant belive we were left out there to die we were left behind by our government, and our president. some people were bad but most of us were hard workers not to mention single mothers this would be something i would never forget and i will always have that fellings about and anybody that go back there will be crazy. if they done it once thell do it again to all the people that servied it god bless."
By now, we know that if anyone is going to help the Katrina survivors, it will be we, the people - not FEMA and certainly not Bush. As Michael Moore said:
No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this!
Michael Moore on 09/02/05
Katrina Timeline at Think Progress.
August 29: Spike Lee's "When The Levees Broke" On HBO
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
As the world watched in horror, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Like many who watched the unfolding drama on television news, director Spike Lee was shocked not only by the scale of the disaster, but by the slow, inept and disorganized response of the emergency and recovery effort. Lee was moved to document this modern American tragedy, a morality play witnessed by people all around the world. The result is WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS. The film is structured in four acts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Katrina's catastrophic passage through New Orleans. All four acts will be seen Tuesday, Aug. 29 (8:00 p.m.-midnight), the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
As I drove to Baton Rouge, I began getting angry. As the days advanced, I got angrier. New Orleans had not even been the bull’s-eye for this storm, which also had turned out to be less powerful than expected. Nevertheless, much of the city was going under, with the whole world watching in disbelief. How could the United States of America have left one of its crown jewel cities so vulnerable to a preventable disaster that I and many others had been warning about for years? How could this nation have been so unprepared for the aftermath? Hurricane Katrina was both a natural disaster and a systemic failure on the part of our society. Together, they produced tragedy.
Excerpted from “The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina — the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist,” by Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan.

Monday, August 28, 2006

From the mailbag

Every now and again I get asked about organizations that are working in the on-going disaster zone left in the wake of Katrina a year ago. Here's hopefully a partial answer:

But we must not let our efforts rise and fall with the headlines. There are people in real need, every day. And there is an impressive array of worthy groups, advancing just demands, that we must continue to support.

The Common Ground Relief Collective and People’s Organizing Committee are two groups on the ground that deserve our backing and investment. So do Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), Advancement Project, the Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights, People’s Hurricane Relief, Save Our Selves Coalition, Haliburton Watch, the National Association of Katrina Evacuees, Critical Resistance , Louisiana Advocates for Environmental Human Rights and many others.

Nearly 60,000 people have joined , an online advocacy organization we launched in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Making smart use of the internet, our members have fought for housing assistance, unemployment insurance and voting rights for Gulf Coast evacuees. Anyone can join by signing up on the website.

Another key group is the Katrina Information Network , an online action center and information clearinghouse for all things related to the disaster and its aftermath. Through, you can send emails to your representatives, including FEMA. KIN also wants concerned people to pressure officials by sending emails to and calling Congress at (202) 224-3121.

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) has an online kit with contact information for media outlets and sample letters . The toolkit is designed to help people push the news media to tell the real story of Katrina and its aftermath. By calling your local news and radio talk shows, and by writing letters to the editor, we can increase the number of fair stories and reports.

The Opportunity Agenda has produced an impressive array of fact sheets and policy proposals that can be accessed online.

That is just a small sampling of the organizations deeply engaged in this work, when the TV cameras have moved on and the pundits have switched topics. These groups deserve our respect—and a higher level of support and engagement from us.

Because in the end, this crisis demands that we attend to more than just the Gulf Coast and the survivors. This second crisis calls for a deep, longstanding and personal commitment to attend to this ailing democracy itself.

It requires supporting grassroots activists and their just demands. It requires letting government representatives know that they have our support when they choose to serve those in need, and letting them hear our disapproval when they choose not to.

It means participating in the democratic process as if others’ lives depend on it—because they do.

If we rise to the challenge, the rest of the story of Hurricane Katrina will not just be about Americans at our best. It will be about America at its best.

And the survivors of this unspeakable catastrophe surely deserve nothing less than that.
Nerdified link.

More post-Katrina food for thought

One year ago today Katrina came to New Orleans. As I type this Ernesto is bearing down on Haiti. By the time it steamrolls over that sad battered island and reaches the American Gulf coast it may have gathered enough power to be a Category Three hurricane just like Katrina.

Will George W. Bush say nobody could have predicted it?

The American Society of Civil Engineers highlights here what the ideological obsession with making government as small and ineffectual as possible has led to, and makes you wonder if New Orleans will ever be re-built.

But you can't bring hair gel on an airplane, doesn't that make you feel safer?
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Speaking of Ernesto, this I heard one of the idiot talking heads on CNN ask one of the other idiot talking heads about the status of the Guantánamo Bay torture chambers, given that Ernesto was supposed to hit Cuba. We were reassured that all Gitmo got was some 40 mph winds and some rain, and that the torture of "enemy combatants" was going on as scheduled. Now we should really feel safer, eh?

Summing up the Katrina disaster

Katrina brought America back to reality if only for a short time and made it realize that it can't be beautiful when its leaders are not only asleep at the wheel, but also blissfully unaware of its problems and of the way to solve them.
Nerdified Link.