How Americans Are

I’m guest-blogging on Crooks & Liars this week. I am trying to constrain myself over there and not write my usual kitchen-sink-plus posts. Yesterday and today I posted a couple of brief (for me) posts on two of my favorite subjects, post-Katrina reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and America’s failing health care system.

Although both posts were triggered by new news stories, there isn’t any information in them I haven’t ranted on about in the past. For the “kitchen sink” details of the “Katrina” post see The Mahablog “Katrina” archive. Past posts on the health care system issue include this, this, and this.

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a column by Bob Herbert about the New Orleans Ninth Ward that I wish were not behind the subscription firewall. I am too repressed to defy the New York Times copyright and permissions department and post the whole thing here, even though I would probably get away with it. Anyway, Herbert writes that it “boggles the mind” that the U.S. seems to have taken the loss of a major city, New Orleans, in stride. Here’s a portion:

Much of New Orleans is still a ruin. More than half of its population is gone and an enormous percentage of the people who are still in town are suffering.

As Mr. [Spike] Lee noted, the public face of the city is to some extent a deceptive feel-good story. The Superdome, a chamber of horrors during the flood, has been made new again. And the city’s football team, the Saints, has turned its fortunes around and is sprinting into the National Football League playoffs. (They beat the Giants in New York yesterday, 30-7.)

“They spent the money on the Superdome, and you can get drunk in the French Quarter again, and some of the conventions are coming back,” Mr. Lee said, “so people are trying to say that everything’s O.K. But that’s a lie.

“They need to stop this focus on downtown and the Superdome because it does a disservice to all those people who are still in very deep trouble. They need to get the cameras out of the French Quarter and go to New Orleans East, or the Lower Ninth Ward. Or go to St. Bernard Parish. You’ll see that everything is not O.K. Far from it.”

Vast acreages of ruined homes and staggering amounts of garbage and filth still burden the city. Scores of thousands of people remain jobless and homeless. The public schools that are open, for the most part, are a scandal. And the mental health situation, for the people in New Orleans and the evacuees scattered across the rest of the U.S., is yet another burgeoning tragedy.

There’s actually a fifth act, only recently completed, to “When the Levees Broke,” in which a number of people reflect on what has been happening since the storm. Wynton Marsalis, ordinarily the mildest of individuals, looks into the camera with an expression of anger and deep disgust. “What is the government doing?” he asks. “They’re trying to figure out how to hand out contracts. How to lower the minimum wage so the subcontractors can make all the money. Steal money from me and you, man. We’re paying taxes, you understand what I’m saying?”

For most of America, Katrina is an old story. In Mr. Lee’s words, people are suffering from “Katrina fatigue.” They’re not much interested in how the levees have only been patched up to pre-Katrina levels of safety, or how the insurance companies have ripped off thousands upon thousands of hard-working homeowners who are now destitute, or how, as USA Today reported, “One $7.5 billion Louisiana program to help people rebuild or relocate has put money in the hands of just 87 of the 89,403 homeowners who applied.”

There are other matters vying for attention. The war in Iraq is going badly. Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell are feuding. And, after all, it’s Christmas.

“You know how Americans are,” Mr. Lee said. “We’re on to the next thing.”

That may be how Americans are, but what it says to me is that we have no effective national leadership. One of the most important functions of a leader is to keep people focused and working together on what needs to be done. And we just plain don’t have anyone filling that role right now. Dear Leader Bush is floating around in his bubble oblivious even to the basic responsibilities of the job of POTUS. In a nutshell, whatever doesn’t glorify him doesn’t interest him. And he is way disinterested in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. Meanwhile, the favored federal contractors are profiteering with abandon, getting fat and rich on our tax dollars, while New Orleans stagnates. And while some individuals have worked hard to help New Orleans, without effective national leadership most of us feel helpless to effect any real improvement.

10 thoughts on “How Americans Are

  1. Pingback: The Mahablog » How Americans Are


    I certainly agree with the need for all of us, right now, to shine an intense spotlight on the charlatans and snake oil salesmen who hyped us into this mess. However, will it get anywhere? After all, these media outlets own us. I gave up listening to any of the MSM outlets a long time ago, with the exception of CNN. How many people would it take, doing the same, to make the MSM wake up? Or, perhaps more pertinent, how many people would it take to contact our newly elected Democratic Congress and get them to break up the media conglomerates? I try to “never say never” but I just don’t see it happening and I think its what really does need to happen – the breaking up of the big conglomerate media outlets. Oh – and why does Rupert Murdoch get to have such a big say in what America should and should hear? I don’t like ‘foreigners’ being in charge of our media. I think its treasonous to have allowed it in the first place.

  3. 87 of the 89,403? Less than one in a thousand? Why not just buy them all a lottery ticket instead?

    (answer to rhetorical question: because a lottery ticket wouldn’t shuffle money to Betchtel or Halliburton.)

  4. For the Americans who just go on without helping fellow Americans in New Orleans, you may be the next tragedy under this leadership. Ain’t he going to give a damn about you either.

  5. The New Orleans that I lived in was an amazing place, so different from any other I’ve known.

    As the “heck of a job Brownie” phase of the post Katrina catastrophe unfolded, it was clear to me that the reconstruction of the city would take a New Deal type program. The National Forest leases to the lumber concerns would need to be suspended, and the houses would need to be constructed elsewhere while the ruins were removed.

    This of course would follow the large bladders of potable water hanging from the chinook helicopters chopping their way in from Baton Rouge, and the long lines of Greyhound buses that Mayor Nagin was begging for. But alas the city just looked damp from Air Force One flying over, and the people were of color.

    New Orleans was a city where life was led on your front porch, a place where you knew your neighbors. It was also where I learned about life and culture that had little to do with European origins. It was hot. It was poor. It was so alive with sounds of music, the river, and trains. And though bayou muck was racid, the smell from the stove vent of eateries made me hungrier than I’ve even been.

    So the parallel of Rummy’s little rant that Baghdad isn’t burning from 30,000 feet struck that same dischordant note in my heart, one that reminds us all that none of the bubble dwellers are going to ever get it.

    It is important to revive the tourist economy, convention business etc., to Heimlich the flood waters from the cities throat. But getting people back in and living again is a much bigger problem. Most of the structures that failed were not in fact levies, but rather flood walls. If we are serious about having a this city live again, especially in the face of “inconvenient truth” water levels, billions are going to need to be spent to emulate a Dutch flood control system.

    In the meantime, it is still beyond my comprehension that the largest class action law suit in the history of the republic has not yet begun.

  6. One of the most under-reported stories out of Katrina is the massive fraud by insurance companies who made it clear and IN WRITING that they would not pay engineering companies for damage reports that showed damge caused by wind (which was insured) but ONLY flood damage (which is not covered).

    I am no lawyer, but there seems to be racketeering issues when 2 companies insurance and engineering conspire to make false assessments of damage. Ir’s wonderful that the deep pockets of the ACLU will protect illegal aliens, but couldn’t care less about Americans.

  7. I just hope the Dems are so hungry for the White House in ’08 that they include Katrina in the many oversight hearings that I hear they are planning to have. At this point, it’s the only hope for these people. Of course, Katrina hearings should be second only to oversight hearings on the Diebold voting machines so that, unlike 2000 and 2004, the Dems will be able to actually take office when they get elected.

  8. Herbert’s mind get boggled that Americans can take the loss of a city in stride? That’s strange…New Orleans will be back..that’s a given, maybe not as quickly as we would like, but it will be back in time, without the help of the government. It’s geographical location will give it back its life, the same as it gave it it’s birth. As long as there is a Mississippi river and a Gulf of Mexico, there will be a vibrant New Orleans

    What boggles my mind is how Americans can take the loss of their freedoms and Constitutional guarantees with hardly a whimper. Our freedoms have been lost to us in a location of less enduring qualities, and the assurances that they will come back are not as certain.

  9. The lack of leadership in this country appalls me. Other countries would be storming the gates of congress right now.

    This “first hundred hours” initiative better be damned productive.

  10. Doug,

    insurance companies who made it clear and IN WRITING that they would not pay engineering companies for damage reports that showed damge caused by wind (which was insured) but ONLY flood damage (which is not covered).

    Do you have a link for this? Which companies involved?


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