Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Recalling Katrina

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Recalling Katrina

Seeing as how I'm in New York and all, I read Frank Rich this morning in the hard copy New York Times. Of course, that isn't quite as big a deal now as it was in the old days, because you can pretty much get the Times in any major American city. I know I can get it in Chicago--I just don't usually. Today he's talking about the imminent anniversary of Katrina's date with New Orleans. His title, "Return to the Scene of the Crime," requires some explanation, as it's the Prez's return to the scene of his own crime at issue here. Rich's argument is that the Bush administration's nonresponse to Katrina was his moment of truth, his great unmasking, the incident that caused the body politic to see right through him. Rich also thinks the press saw through him at the same time, and while they did question his effectiveness (if not very directly his person), they continue to give him the benefit of the doubt far more than non-sycophants would normally do. But he makes a number of good points that make his column worth a read, not least among them some of Katrina's stats:

A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A "truth squad" of House Democrats has cataloged the "waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement" in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.

But perhaps the best commentary didn't even come from Frank Rich himself. He quotes Douglas Brinkley to excellent effect as his column nears a close.

Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, "The Great Deluge," is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. "I don't think anybody's getting the Bush strategy," he said when we talked last week. "The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action." As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans's opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees ("Only Band-Aids have been put on them"), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. "Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains," Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. "The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state."

I've got it on good authority that this is precisely the strategy spelled out by New Orleans expatriates sitting out the rebuilding in Florida country clubs. The underclass was just getting in the way, and all the wealthy people who'll be flocking to the new condos that can go in where the flooded-out neighborhoods used to be will be better off without them. Exactly how they'll get a thriving tourist economy up and running again without a substantial service sector is a plan that is still probably on the drawing board, but I'm sure the Prez stands ready to help in any way he can.

If you want to read a couple of other excellent commentaries on Katrina, ones that are free to the public this time, take a look at "The Storm That Blew New Orleans Apart" and "Down and Up on the Bayou," both from The New York Times. Thanks today to Wealthy Frenchman for the uncut column by Frank Rich.


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