Don't say that a hurricane destroyed New Orleans. Hurricanes don't drown cities.
It was a "perfect storm" of a different kind that put that great city underwater: Bush-era neglect of our national infrastructure, combined with runaway global warming and a deep contempt for poor African-Americans.
The result: catastrophe. The flooding was not a result of heavy rains. It is a result of a weak levee -- one that was in mid-repair when the storm hit. And that levee, which has held back floodwaters for time beyond memory, collapsed for one simple reason: Bush refused to fix it last summer, when local officials were begging him to do so. Instead, he diverted those funds to the war effort.
In other words, the dollars that could have saved New Orleans were used to wage war in Iraq, instead. What's worse: funds that might have spared the poor in New Orleans (had the dollars been properly invested in levees and modern pumping stations), were instead passed out to the rich, willy-nilly -- as tax breaks.
With those two simple steps, Bush squandered the hard-won Clinton-era surplus. He left the national piggy bank empty for fixing and maintaining basic U.S. infrastructure. (And what was Clinton doing next to the president, giving him cover at a time like this?)
Had the levee repairs been completed in a timely manner (two years ago), Katrina would have hit hard, destroyed buildings and probably taken some lives. But it would NOT have cracked open the floodwalls and submerged an entire CITY. It took Bush's criminal neglect of his domestic duties to produce that outcome.
But that is only one area of Bush's culpability. Ross Gelbspan says: "Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced off south Florida, [but] it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico."
In other words, global warming likely super-charged this hurricane. Yet Bush's energy policies amount to an ongoing conspiracy to add even MORE carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the climate.
So get ready for even worse storms next year, and the next. And the next.
And the human suffering was not -- and will not be -- equally distributed.
Poor people and Black people didn't "choose to stay behind." They were left behind. All evacuation plans required the city's residents to have working, private cars -- plus gas money, nearby relatives or funds for a hotel stay. And if you didn't have all those things, tough luck.
Had the responsible agencies valued the lives of the poor, they would have helped the destitute flee in the face of the hurricane -- even those who couldn't afford a car or a motel room. But when the "face of suffering" is Black, somehow our high standards for effective action and compassion begin to sag.
Of course, seeing this, Bush could have taken a strong stand for the poor and the suffering. But his half-hearted, emotionally flat statement on Wednesday did little to rally the nation. It seems that, as long as "the terrorists" didn't do it, Bush just can't get himself too worked up about Americans dying by the hundreds.
So tonight Americans are dying in the flooded streets of New Orleans like flies. And many of the men and women in uniform who could help rescue them and restore order are nowhere to be found. Instead of helping their grandparents and aiding their neighbors in this time of crisis, Louisiana and Mississippi guardsmen are half-a-world away, fighting for a lie.
We are witnessing a monumental leadership failure in the Bush White House, on top of five years of foolish policies that set the city of New Orleans up for this disaster in the first place.
We must not be afraid to speak that truth. Some will say that this is no time for playing the "blame game." No time for engaging in "divisive politics."
Pardon me. To the contrary: this is exactly the time to draw a clear line of distinction between those of us who have always fought to invest in this country -- and those who happily squandered the national treasure on give-aways and imperial adventures. Between those of us who have long fought to protect the most vulnerable among us, and those who have worked feverishly to undo those protections.
This is no time for progressives to be hemmed in by some false "unity" with a President whose policies are largely to blame for this disaster. Too much is at stake, going forward.
In the short term, we must exert maximum pressure on the federal government to pull out all stops to rescue people and re-establish peace and good order. And in the weeks to come, we must demand an immediate repeal of the tax cuts -- to enable a massive investment for rebuilding New Orleans and repairing the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Also, any Louisiana and Mississippi guardsmen who want to return home from Iraq to aid their statesmen should be allowed to do so.
The truth is that the poor people of Louisiana were deliberately left behind -- and not just over the weekend. Our political leaders as a class -- and George W. Bush, in particular -- left them behind a long time ago.
In the aftermath of this wholly avoidable catastrophe, let us do all we can to rescue those who have been abandoned. And then let us rescue the U.S. government from those who engineered that abandonment.
And let us recognize our sacred duty in completing BOTH tasks.