Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Katrina: The Aftermath, The Politics & Citizen Media (Part 2)

Sunday, September 04, 2005
(Continued from yesterday.) Some more must-read links in which Anderson Cooper, Mary Landrieu, Kayne West and Fidel Castro(!) start to show the way forward...

[X] On Thursday, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper, who had already been in the thick of New Orleans' devestation for several days, turned on Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu during a live-telecast interview when she tried to basically dodge the hard questions and instead started thanking other politicians:
COOPER: Senator, I?m sorry? for the last four days, I have been seeing dead bodies here in the streets of Mississippi and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other ? I have to tell you, there are people here who are very upset and angry, and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it just, you know, it cuts them the wrong way right now, because there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman has been laying in the street for 48 hours, and there is not enough facilities to get her up. Do you understand that anger?
LANDRIEU: I have the anger inside of me. Most of the homes in my family have been destroyed. I understand that, and I know all the details, and the President ?
COOPER: Well, who are you angry at?
LANDRIEU: I?m not angry at anyone. It is so important for everyone in this nation to pull together, for all military assets to be brought to bare in this situation. I have every confidence this country is great and strong as we can be do to that, and that effort is under way. That effort is under way.
COOPER: Well, I mean, there are a lot of people here who are kind of ashamed of what is happening in this country right now, what is ? ashamed of what is happening in your state. And that?s not to blame the people that are there, it is a terrible situation, but you know, who ? no one seems to be taking responsibility. I know you say there?s a time and a place for kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. There are people that want answers, and people want someone to stand up and say: we should have done more.
[From the Think Progress Transcript] [Download the clip in QT or WMV at Crooks and Liars]
The shock of the disaster and the uncharacteristically honest media seems to have lit a fire under Landrieu, though, as she has now turned on Bush and his attempts to media-managed the disaster. From Landrieu's official press release:
"Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

"I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims -- far more efficiently than buses -- FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government."
[Via From The Roots] When American senators are lamenting politicians trying the manage the media, you know things are getting rough!

[X] During the NBC Concert for Hurricane Relief, rapper Kayne West departed from the safe, banal, scripted message he was "supposed" to deliver. West began looking uncharacteristically nervous and upset. When he spoke, he spoke his mind, much to the dismay of NBC:
Mike Meyers reads off prompter ? switches to black singer, Kanye West:

"I hate the way they portray us in the media.

"If you see a black family it says they are looting if you see a white family it says they are looking for food.

"And you know that it?s been 5 days because most of the people are black and even for me to complain ? I would be a hypocrite because I would turn away from the TV because it?s too hard to watch. I?ve even been shopping before giving a donation and so right now I?m calling my business manager what is the biggest amount I can give.

"And just to imagine if I was down there, those are my people down there. So anybody out there who wants to help with the set up, the way that America is set up to help ? The poor, the black people, the less well off as slow as possible. I mean, Red Cross is doing everything they can.

"We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war now fighting another way and they?ve given them permission to go down and shoot us."

(Mike Meyers tries to get back on prompter, reads from script and then camera cuts back to Kanye. He pauses before

Kanye West: "George Bush doesn?t care about black people."
[Transcript from Crooks & Liars] [Download the clip in QT or WMV also from Crooks & Liars]
The LA Times notes that by the time the "A Concert for Hurricane Relief" hit the West Coast three hours later, Kayne West's "George Bush doesn't care about black people" was removed from the broadcast. The Washinton Post continues:
West's comments would be cut from the West Coast feed, an NBC spokeswoman told The TV Column. (The Associated Press later reported that only his comment about the president was edited out.) The show was live on the East Coast with a several-second delay; someone with his finger on a button was keeping an ear peeled in case someone uttered an obscenity but did not realize that West had gone off-script, the spokeswoman said.
Kudos to Kayne West is all I can say.

[X] The "Left I on the News" Blog reports that a certain president has shown real and immediate compassion and resourcefulness in trying to combat the human disaster:
Not President Bush. Cuban President Fidel Castro. Speaking on Cuban television tonight, Castro revealed that on Tuesday, while George Bush was still on vacation playing with his spiffy new guitar, and a day or two before the Secretary of State went shopping for shoes, Cuba contacted the State Department and offered no less than 1,100 doctors to assist in dealing with the crisis. Doctors who, unlike the hospital ship which has yet to leave its berth in Baltimore and isn't scheduled to be in New Orleans until next Saturday (!), could have been on site by Wednesday if the Cuban offer had been accepted.

It wasn't.

Update: In his speech last night on Cuban television, Castro reiterated his offer. These doctors would arrive carrying their own medical supplies and food, capable of operating on their own without any infrastructure. If the offer had been accepted last night, 100 of them could have been here today, with the other 1000 following within the next two days. People will die today in New Orleans due to lack of medical care. Condoleezza Rice was, we can presume, too busy admiring her new $500 shoes to pick up the phone, or care. Leaving aside their response in general, the lack of response of the United States Government to the Cuban offer, all by itself, is criminal. Not just grounds for impeachment, but grounds for being charged with accessory to murder. Because the people of New Orleans aren't just dying, they are being murdered by criminal neglect.
[Via The Republic of T]

[X] Matt Wells, writing for the BBC in " New Orleans crisis shames Americans":
At the end of an unforgettable week, one broadcaster on Friday bitterly encapsulated the sense of burning shame and anger that many American citizens are feeling. The only difference between the chaos of New Orleans and a Third World disaster operation, he said, was that a foreign dictator would have responded better. It has been a profoundly shocking experience for many across this vast country who, for the large part, believe the home-spun myth about the invulnerability of the American Dream. The party in power in Washington is always happy to convey the impression of 50 states moving forward together in social and economic harmony towards a bigger and better America. That is what presidential campaigning is all about. But what the devastating consequences of Katrina have shown - along with the response to it - is that for too long now, the fabric of this complex and overstretched country, especially in states like Louisiana and Mississippi, has been neglected and ignored. [...] The country has to choose whether it wants to rebuild the levees and destroyed communities, with no expense spared for the future - or once again brush off that responsibility, and blame the other guy.
[X] Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing is dismayed that the army seems to have declared war on the civilians in New Orleans:
An article in the Army Times is referring to American citizens in New Orleans as "the insurgency".
Does this mean the United States is now in an undeclared state of civil war?
[...] Junkies and desperate people in dehumanizing conditions without homes, hope, or the most basic resources for survival. The context doesn't make crime acceptable. It doesn't lessen the very real dangers for military and law enforcement personnel tasked with the daunting job of restoring security. But it doesn't make an entire population "insurgents" either.

We often hear the term used by military leaders or politicians to refer to armed entities in Iraq and other war zones overseas.

We are talking about fellow American citizens here -- in America.

Not insurgents. Not refugees. Not enemies. Americans.
Finally, while it seems insane to need to donate to the US, if the US Government can't get their act together and get aid where it is needed, I have faith that the Red Cross will ...


(Continued in Part 3.)

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4 Comments:

At 9/05/2005 08:21:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the Army Times is callous. Ask any Soldier, they'll agree. They do not always speak for the troops, who are sickened that their orders have been so delayed. They want to help - not fight. I have sent my husband into the most horrific environment imaginable - one state away, and I am shocked I was not saying goodbye last week. Please know the Army is a bungled bureaucracy, but the Soldiers love and want to protect their fellow Americans. Obviously the author of the Army Times piece is largely unfamiliar with the 4th Amendment. Sadly, so are many other Americans.

 
At 9/05/2005 08:23:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Cherry Creek News, a Denver newspaper, has one of the most insightful editorials on Kanye West's statements. The paper, which serves a wealthy Denver area, seems to have real grip on Kanye's comments

 
At 9/08/2005 02:59:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2005/09/4683.php Mail comments.

'Get Off The Fucking Freeway': The Sinking State Loots its Own Survivors
by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2005 at 3:13 AM

Two paramedics stranded in New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina give their account of self-organisation and abandonment in the disaster zone

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City.

Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had.

We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard.

The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had been descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there
was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct.

Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered
once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners.

In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.

Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.



Links

Jamie King 'The Real War of the Worlds'
http://jamie.com/archives/20

Jordan Flaherty 'Notes From Inside New Orleans'
http://linkme2.net5e

Xeni Jardin 'Al-Cajun? Army Times calls NOLA Katrina victims "the insurgency"'
http://linkme2.net/5f

 
At 9/08/2005 03:11:00 pm, Blogger Tama said...

Thanks for the three anonymous commenters (or, perhaps, the same anonymous person three times).

Very engaging links.

The New Orleans Indymedia site definitely seems like watching further.

 

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