By Brian M. Howle
My last visit to New Orleans was in March of 2004, when my sweetie and I were joined by our friends Lisa and Dale from West Virginia, for a relaxing weekend on Bourbon Street.
We would have lingered a little longer had we only known what would transpire in the coming year …
Sometimes we just beat a good phrase to death, especially when tragedy strikes on a Biblical scale. But I have never more honestly meant anything in my life, when I say: “I am so sorry for anyone who never got a chance to visit New Orleans in her glory.”
Everyone reading this knows full well about the mystical pull that New Orleans possesses – the history, the architecture, the culture, the mystique – so I needn’t continually repeat the obvious here.
But in the midst of our last visit, we had signed on for a tour of the Crescent City’s fabled cemeteries, steeped in religious rituals and voodoo whispers. A typical New Orleans native ran the tour, a charming middle-aged man who presented patrons with little homemade praline candies from his wife at the beginning of the tour.
He made a well-orated recitation – in a voice lusciously drenched in indignant Cajun accent – concerning the reason for New Orleans’ tombs being above ground; that being the fact that the city is below sea level – and well, caskets don’t want to stay buried when you tap into the earth’s water table.
This subject brought about a series of questions relating to the huge locking gates we had seen around the city’s perimeter, most noticeable near the French Quarter Market section, which parallels the Mississippi River.
Our guide sighed heavily when asked about the city’s fate if a major hurricane ever struck. “Those gates aren’t built to handle a Category 4 or 5 .. hell, we don’t really know if they would hold up against a Cat 3. But I can tell you this: if those levees along Lake Ponchatrain ever break, ooooowheeeee man, I guaronteeee … N’awlins is flat out gone if that ever happens.”
And that assessment has haunted me every day for the past week and a half now, as a somewhat slow and quite possibly dense media and populace find themselves in some comatose form of mental gridlock.
Now here comes the National Freak Show. Americans Gone Wild should be the name of this reality-TV abomination unfolding before our eyes, as the packs of naive, over-protected and clueless anchors and reporters rack their collective leetle noggins for that perfect metaphor to cap off their deeply emotional piece.
Here’s the clip I’d like to see on TV tonight: An Army helicopter hovers over the city, with bullhorn blaring:
“Attention! Attention! All those with firearms … Geraldo Rivera is in the ‘hood. Good luck and Happy Hunting!”
Before the first person could scramble up on their roof to escape the rising waters, the biggest game of Cover Your Ass was on, at every level of government. And there’s more CYA going on than freshly painted benches at a nudist colony can muster.
The Mayor of New Orleans crumbled under pressure and resorted to playing the handy race card, in the midst of profanity-laced whining about how state and federal powers were screwing him over.
The Governor of Louisiana froze with the fear of Political Suicide by Wrong Decisions, and allowed precious hours and days to slip by without proper channels of aid being implemented.
The Director of FEMA came across as an articulate version of Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man character. When repeatedly questioned on three successive television interviews, he looped with “Yeah, we’re definitely taking steps to begin the rebuilding, yeah, we’re definitely beginning. Time for Wapner, time for Wapner!”
The Director of Homeland Security looked like a stoned maitre’d at the podium, exuding a total absence of control or substance, but lookin’ damn fine in that Armani suit. Because everyone knows, terrorist women go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.
The President of the United States solidified his perceived lack of intelligence by allowing any of this to take place on his watch – and then bringing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld along on his second visit to the devastated area. Rumsfeld? What, are we going to invade Arkansas now?
Liberal media has hammered ol’ W., and perhaps with some degree of justification. But seriously, it has now evolved into an incessant, daily beating up on the Prez routine, and it’s become really old, you guys. Please, go out there and find yet another tear-jerking story of human suffering to gnaw away at our worthless, still-got-electricity-and-water-and-cable-and-air-conditioning-and-dry-sheets-and-2.5-kids-and-a-job-and-a-house-and-a-life guilt trip so that we’re one nation firmly on the edge of mass suicide. Please.
Don’t be so quick to laugh on the far right radio side, either. And while we’re at it, let’s be clear – Rush and Hannity are far right, kids. Neal Boortz is right-middle, and Michael Savage is just full blown nuts.
Rush’s immediate politization boiled over when Bush’s indifference and retard-like slowness to take charge was just too apparent for even a blind man to ignore. His return serve of the race card that was played out by the sniveling mayor of New Orleans (among others) was horrifically racist, essentially blaming every black and poor person in New Orleans for not being smart or rich enough to get the hell out of town before the storm ever got close, and for being poor and black and criminal for the last 200 years.
“Fair & Balanced” Sean Hannity (if ‘Fair’ is anything conservative and ‘Balanced’ is arrogant and only found on Fox) blame blacks in general and Jesse Jackson in particular “for the exploitation of human tragedy for political purpose.”
Damn right, Sean. I mean, this is nothing at all like your exploitation of Terri Schiavo for political purpose, huh? Do you have any video of little black kids or old black folk making gurgling sounds while they drown in exploited political purpose, sounds that we could interpret as responsive answers to our questions? HUH?
And while these yahoos babble in “Blame it all on Clinton, ‘cause it still works for us” choruses on a daily basis, they – along with “liberal” media folk – have all made note of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s fabled political corruption and graft. These legendary crooks that have fleeced the citizens of the Soggy State – in the exact same way that Idi Amin, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Baby Doc Duvalier fleeced their own despotic domains – have somehow achieved rockstar status not only in local and state lore, but in American History. Go figure.
So here’s an idea: Everyone who wants to point fingers and scream at people who aren’t going to listen to each other, please take five minutes and read the following:
There is no time to deal with adults acting childish.
Most people – and I am damn serious about this – most people STILL do not have a clue as to the far-reaching impact of this natural disaster. Our nation is about to be plunged into a very bad time, and how we fare depends on how well we take control of our collective destiny.
The Gulf Coast region is about to experience the best and worst of both extremes. There will be devastating economic losses for families without homes or jobs, while at the same time an all-time record building boom in the ensuing recovery.
Oh yeah, I did say “Gulf Coast” … for those who still somehow believe that New Orleans is the center of the worst destruction.
Mississippi’s entire coastal economy – along with their huge gambling tax revenues – has been completely obliterated. The infrastructure if gone – no roads, no power, no water, no cell towers, nothing. Alabama fared slightly better, but anything on the edge of Katrina’s fury faced the same fate as Mississippi, New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana.
So there will be colossal public works projects. All these displaced, unemployed folks should eventually be the ones rebuilding, if we’re smart.
The argument against continuing the Army Corps of Engineers plan to upgrade the levees and gates around New Orleans used to be that it was just too damn expensive to pursue.
As usual, in hindsight it now appears the forecasted cost would have been a friggin’ bargain compared to the projected cost of rebuilding New Orleans.
In the meantime, two things I want you all to keep in mind:
(1) Pray to God, Jehovah, Allah, Buddha – whomever you believe to hold the celestial deed to our planet – that the “Big One” doesn’t hit California and the West Coast for at least another 10 years; and,
(2) That China doesn’t really have designs on invading the U.S.A.
The Chinese, along with the rest of the world, must have surely noticed our small-minded bickering and fighting amongst ourselves, as we seem to fail as a nation while once again uniting as a nation to achieve what others think to be impossible.
How inept do you think we look in the eyes of our planetary neighbors?
And while we’re in the process of “fixing what doesn’t work when we find it”, Mr. President, could we just do away with the things that don’t work instead of bureaucratically trying to fix them? Otherwise, there’s not much reason for those color-coded post-it notes we’re supposed to notice every morning on our way to work or school, or whatever the lucky ones of us get to do tomorrow.
Because as it stands right now, we are incapable of responding to the next big terrorist attack, kids.
Katrina was as bad as they get, but it’s not like we didn’t know it could happen.
If we can’t get it together after a bad hurricane – then it’s time to just hand over the keys to whoever thinks they can do a better job.
Until then, let’s sit back and watch real progress when Congress reconvenes.
You thought Katrina was a bitch? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
The previous article was originally published in the September 8, 2005 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.