'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Random Notes on Katrina 

Selections from some excellent commentaries that speak for themselves. Links have been provided for those who want to read them in their entirety.

First, from Democracy Now yesterday:

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, I wanted to ask -- this is a bit of an odd question. You're a law professor. We usually talk to you about the crisis that's going on in Haiti, where you have been a number of times and represent, among others, Father Jean-Juste, who is in prison there. How does what you are seeing in New Orleans right now, how does it compare to Haiti?

BILL QUIGLEY: Well, you know, I had always hoped that Haiti would become more like New Orleans, but what's happened is New Orleans has become more like Haiti here recently. You know, we don't have power. We don't have transportation. At this point, I think, at least the people in the hospital have some fresh water, but they're telling people you can’t drink the water out of the taps. So there's people wandering around the city without water, without transportation, without medical care. So in many senses, we have about a million people in the New Orleans area who are experiencing, you know, what Haiti it like.

Second, from one of my favorite journalists, Chris Floyd:

The destruction of New Orleans represents a confluence of many of the most pernicious trends in American politics and culture: poverty, racism, militarism, elitist greed, environmental abuse, public corruption and the decay of democracy at every level.

Much of this is embodied in the odd phrasing that even the most circumspect mainstream media sources have been using to describe the hardest-hit victims of the storm and its devastating aftermath: "those who chose to stay behind." Instantly, the situation has been framed with language to flatter the prejudices of the comfortable and deny the reality of the most vulnerable.

It is obvious that the vast majority of those who failed to evacuate are poor: they had nowhere else to go, no way to get there, no means to sustain themselves and their families on strange ground. While there were certainly people who stayed behind by choice, most stayed behind because they had no choice. They were trapped by their poverty - and many have paid the price with their lives.

Third, New Orleans is one of the great multicultural American cities, with one of the most influential African American communities in this country. Katrina has inflicted imcomprehensible damage upon it:

I can't say I saw everything that the TV newscasters pumped out about Katrina, but I viewed enough repeated segments to say with 90 percent confidence that broadcasters covering the New Orleans end of the disaster demurred from mentioning two topics that must have occurred to every sentient viewer: race and class.

Nearly every rescued person, temporary resident of the Superdome, looter, or loiterer on the high ground of the freeway I saw on TV was African-American. And from the look of it, they weren't wealthy residents of the Garden District. This storm appears to have hurt blacks more directly than whites, but the broadcasters scarcely mentioned that fact.

To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and class issue. I heard them ask the storm's New Orleans victims why they hadn't left town when the evacuation call came. Many said they were broke—"I live from paycheck to paycheck," explained one woman. Others said they didn't own a car with which to escape and that they hadn't understood the importance of evacuation.

But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

Finally, for a good, one stop shop for information about Katrina and its aftermath, with numerous links, I have been visiting Sam Smith's excellent Progressive Review. Feel free to post links to whatever articles that you have found especially compelling.

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