Monday, September 26, 2005

The Tale of Two Hurricanes

Witnessing two dangerous hurricanes within weeks of each other in essentially the same part of the country, but in quite different circumstances, both demographically and geographically, furnishes the opportunity to make comparisons between the reactions and actions with respect to the behavior of citizens, local and state officials, federal-government officials, and the military. Whereas tens of thousands of people were un-served and virtually abandoned with respect to Katrina/New Orleans, such was not the case with Rita and the Texas/Louisiana area, where the worst problem occurred in the malfunctioning of a bus, causing 24 deaths. Otherwise, there was plenty of flooding and physical damage in both places, though nowhere in the country could be compared to the “bowl” of New Orleans, situated as it was/is well below sea level and the water level of huge Lake Pontchartrain on its north side and still providing a monstrous threat to a city newly flooded.

Perhaps the key to understanding why the New Orleans episode was such a complete debacle lies in the answer to a question posed by a reporter to a FEMA representative regarding preparations for helping folks face Rita, with the least amount of disruption. He asked what FEMA (the federal government) had done in the matter of evacuating the threatened localities. The answer by the official was simply that FEMA had pre-positioned its resources at strategic locations from where help could be quickly dispatched, but that evacuation was the sole responsibility of local officials. Thus, it is easily seen why two million people evacuated the areas threatened by Rita, with virtually no loss of life, not that there weren’t considerable problems with traffic, gasoline shortages, etc. This problem will have to be addressed in future emergencies, and much was learned through dealing with the traffic tie-ups in Texas. Local officials in Texas simply made it plain that the best way to face a hurricane is not to face it at all, but to “get out of Dodge.” The citizens listened.

Contrast this with what happened at New Orleans. FEMA had pre-positioned its resources in that area as well. The president even declared a state of emergency well before Katrina hit. During the Friday night of 26 August, permission was asked of Louisiana Governor Blanco by federal officials for National Guard troops to enter the picture, and she refused. On the next night, the 27th, the head honcho of the Weather Service warned New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that he should get everyone out of the city because Katrina was a category-5 hurricane capable of wreaking unspeakable damage and hardship. With fleets of school-buses and city-buses at his disposal from the get-go on the Friday before, he still had all day Sunday the 28th to work on this, as well as most of the night. About all he did was to tell folks to go to the Superdome and take some supplies. The hurricane came in early Monday morning, and the rest is history…a history of suffering that was totally uncalled for and could have been avoided if local and state officials had exercised even a slight degree of common sense. Nagin had not even bothered to stock the dome with food, water, etc.

This, however, is not to say that individual citizens must not take primary responsibility for themselves and their families. They are the first responders in every situation. The ones who exercised sound judgment got in their cars or used other conveyances and left the city. According to figures of the U.S. Census Bureau for 2004, only 8.6% of housing units in New Orleans were not represented by an available vehicle. The national average was 8.7%. The numbers for Mississippi and Alabama were 7.7% and 6.4%, respectively. So much for the lie that black folks were too poor to leave the city. All they needed was the price of a tank of gas. If they could afford the car, surely they could have afforded to drive it. As for where they would stay, that would have been settled anyway, just as it has been because they couldn't get back home. The most vulnerable – old people in nursing homes and hospitals, as well as children – suffered because they were treated to almost criminal neglect by their own families and/or local governments. Many of the for-profit nursing homes arranged to have all their patients evacuated. One even chartered a plane to get them away from the action.

Even as the storm hit, Governor Blanco had not yet given permission for the federal government to take action, and it’s a wonder that literally thousands more did not die because of this negligence. For his part, Mayor Nagin did little more than wring his hands, try to place blame on anybody but himself, and scream for somebody to do something. Without any doubt, he should be impeached at the earliest opportunity, as should the governor, their apparent political jealousies taking center stage when they should have been thinking of the enormity of the problem. In the final analysis, though, people cannot be driven from their homes. They must leave willingly, even if ordered to do so. Perhaps the people in New Orleans were convinced that if they left, their properties would be looted…and they were right…but so what! What’s more important – life and limb…or “things?”

This leads to another matter, that of civil order. The levee breaches were not noticed until well after Katrina had hit, so it seemed that New Orleans had been spared the worst of the storm and that its inhabitants had been wise to stay and protect their properties. It had been spared. The worst of the storm was experienced in Mississippi, where people’s “things” were literally blown away, but where, compared to New Orleans, there were hundreds fewer deaths. Once it was discovered that folks in New Orleans actually had to head for higher ground, the looters took over, ransacking every establishment they could, actually wading through water to steal everything from TVs to sneakers. In the process, the hard-core criminal element simply committed mayhem, deadly in a city from which a third of law-enforcement officers had fled. By contrast, Mississippi Governor Barbour and local officials in Texas put out the word early that lawbreakers would be treated with the most severe consequences necessary, up to and including being shot on the spot.

Without question, there has been enough blame to go around, but the bulk of it belongs to the local and state governments. The contrast between the reactions to the two hurricanes makes this unmistakably plain. There has been little outcry in Mississippi and Alabama, where there has been considerable destruction – total in many places. The people are putting things together or relocating as they see fit, with the help of FEMA. The same will be true in Texas and southwest Louisiana in the wake of Rita’s destruction. The feds, though blamed for being late in responding to Katrina, saved people by the thousands, and were helped by private citizens/institutions contributing financially and with everything from motorboats to helicopters. Using military planes, thousands of people have been relocated by the government all over the country, many, if not most, of them never to return to New Orleans for reasons that should be obvious to anyone. Who wants to live in a place as vulnerable as a city that not only has been gradually sinking farther below sea level for years, but which is bordered all around by levees that could again fail if, indeed, they are ever rebuilt to stand even a category-4 hurricane?

There are other lessons to be learned, but a major one is that it is both dishonest and wildly unpatriotic to categorize anything that happened or didn’t happen as the result of either racism or bigotry, with respect to the poor or blacks or both. The Nagins and Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons and various and assorted elected officials (particularly congresspersons) who certainly know better have played the race card, especially, for all they thought they could get out of it…mostly money or position or 15 minutes of fame. A plague on all of them! They should understand by now that a caring nation has dug deeply to help, and that they would do far better to express appreciation, help with finances and relocations, and, if nothing else, just shut up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fletcher's Time To Go?

I remember e-mailing Ernie Fletcher while he was occupying a practically permanently safe seat in the U.S. House, asking him not to run for the governorship of Kentucky but to stay where he helped maintain a republican majority in that body. The Kentucky Senate has been republican since 1998, the House will probably not be republican in the foreseeable future, and all of Kentucky’s Washington cadre could have been republican, a tremendous asset to the state. The governor’s job was anything but attractive in 2003, especially with a legislature so incompetent/partisan that more than once it couldn’t produce a budget, and a governor so weak he wouldn’t force the issue, as Fletcher didn’t either, displaying the same degree of weakness.

Whether as part or not of the merit mess, Fletcher is now too flawed to do much more than make appearances. It’s hard to believe he was naïve enough to simply be done in by those around him, but if so, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, as any traffic cop will attest. The fact that Fletcher’s gang was not more corrupt/perfidious than the gangs of other governors, or Fletcher than other governors, means nothing, since by his own admission “mistakes” have been made. It is ironic that Fletcher’s republican lieutenant governor was the federal presence in the lawsuit against Patton’s democrat lieutenant governor (Medicare fraud), not least because Patton’s democrat Speaker is now the tormentor of his republican successor…an eye for an eye, etc.

I suggest that Fletcher consider stepping aside, provided Pence is free of any connection with the hiring scandal and after establishing that he (Fletcher) will not be indicted (if possible) or pardoned if he is. Pence may or may not be willing to go that route, remembering the Gerald Ford pardon tragedy concerning Nixon. Both Fletcher and Patton have taken government-by-pardon to a new level. This would allow Pence to get a running start on the top job in 2007, with an added advantage in his being the federal prosecutor of Henry, who seems now to be the strongest contender. Stumbo has said he would not run, of course, but that means nothing. Luallen can probably be linked to plenty of instances in merit misdeeds during her time in Frankfort, if anyone cares to look. Besides, both of the latter have been around Frankfort long enough to have plenty of other kinds of baggage.

Whether as victim or not, Fletcher, as he has indicated, is the ultimate recipient of the buck, now stopped on his desk. The selective firings only added to the confusion, and recent news of the budget director’s little windfall and Nighbert’s latest indictment has not helped, though other directors have probably reaped the same rewards and other bureaucrats have stuck their feet in their mouths. The governor should have told his people that there almost certainly would have been 8 good years to win back some jobs, especially in the 2nd term, but either they or Fletcher, or all of them, couldn’t work the system logically. Now, there is total gridlock for everyone, including those who voted for Fletcher. The use of e-mails, or any printed or recallable material was simply too naïve for words.

The governor is a man of decency and of many talents, governing not being one of them. Perhaps it is time for him to change directions. In the process, he may restore respect and credibility to the entire party. This mess in Frankfort has hurt.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, September 16, 2005

Race-baiting Redux II

[The resident race-baiter at the Lexington Herald-Leader is a lady named Merlene Davis. In her Sunday column of Sept. 4, she was at her best, accusing everyone she could think of – of every bad thing she could think of – of every bad motive she could think of – of course, especially if they happened not to be African Americans. In her Sunday column of Sept 11, Ms. Davis, still at her best, explained all about why hip-hopper (whatever that is) Kanye West said in the wrong venue that the president hates black folk. She even gave a lecture on freedom of speech. In her column of Sept. 15, she kept up the attack. Below are some excerpts (in black) from this most recent column, with some comments (in red):

I think the slow response to the needs of the poor black people in New Orleans -- who withered on highways under the unforgiving Southern sun or died waiting for help that didn't come for days -- was due to their financial situation and skin color. Since you used “and” instead of “or” in your description (financial, skin color), what about the dead or withering who were white?

Even if those black people were on welfare or if the single mothers had far too many children with far too many fathers, they deserved to be treated with dignity. They deserved to be treated with compassion, not dignity. You will not agree with this if the Bible means nothing to you, but the Bible is my source for this assertion, although natural law for the civilized militates against indiscriminate breeding, which is characteristic of animals. Fornication and adultery are categorically condemned in scripture, as well as by an ordered society, and those who practice either are neither dignified nor morally eligible to expect respect. The children born of these unions (7 of 10 in the black community and far too many in the white) are virtually doomed to be behind, right from the start. Legally, they have no fathers of record, thus no mandated (who can afford a palimony suit?) paternal support, either financially or morally. Too often, they exist on welfare, a minimal, short-changing condition. Far from demanding dignity for these people, you should take the lead in setting them straight. In the Danville paper the other day was a picture of an evacuee family in Lancaster – mother (50), daughter (maybe 20), the “fiancé,” and their two children, with a third due in November. The grandmother said they had it better there than in New Orleans, but why weren’t the daughter and fiancé married, at least after the first child, if the child actually was his? In the black community, it’s the fiancé who is the sire, and in the white community it’s the live-in boyfriend. The former just deserts sooner or later, while the latter often beats the child to death, with the silly mother as an accomplice, and they go merrily off to the Big House. This is the reason Roe/Wade should stay intact, and I’m quite conservative. Until you and your folk get hold of this problem, you will fall steadily behind. Dignity? Like esteem, it must be earned.

Poverty is suffering enough without being treated like disposable animals. Poverty doesn’t suffer; people suffer because of poverty. The “disposable animal” thing is beneath contempt, and you should be ashamed. Disposable animals are the ones that are eaten. You have heard of hamburgers, I presume.

Thank God for the news media during this tragedy. I'll bet if you ask any of the survivors who suffered needlessly after Katrina was long gone, they would say that if it were not for the unflinching eye of the worldwide press, the days of inaction might have stretched into a week. Consider the interesting information the media furnished, to wit, that the poor New Orleans folk didn’t get out because they were too poor to own cars. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004, on average, only 8.7% of housing units nationally did not have a car attached to them. In New Orleans, the figure was somewhat better – only 8.6%. The figures for Mississippi and Alabama, respectively, were 7.7% and 6.4%, meaning that in all three areas the car situation was better than in the rest of the country. Or, have you noticed the inordinate numbers of cars all over New Orleans pictured by the media every day, that have been under water? Did you notice the five-lane traffic out of New Orleans before the hurricane hit? Did you notice that some 60% of New Orleans folk, when polled in the week before the hurricane hit, flatly said they would NOT leave. The smart ones left. The others didn’t, and the availability of cars had nothing to do with it.

I have never been prouder of my fellow journalists. Are you kidding? They all became editorialists on the spot, grandstanding in the water and blowing smoke. Journalism was not their bag. Whining and screaming marked their performance, even in print, and they looked hopelessly ignorant in the process.

And the Bush administration has never been shown to be more naked than during those dreadful days. Obviously, the emperor with no clothes was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. A more inept, pathetic creature than this guy didn’t and doesn’t exist. Either he was too dumb to have a clue, or too egotistical to know how self-serving and dumb he was…or both. In any case, multiple deaths are on his hands, and you don’t have to be told why. Every school-bus and city bus, all available (the no-driver thing just won’t wash) days before the storm, that went under the water stand awash now to condemn him as a virtual criminal.

Our government, Democratic and Republican, closed its ears and eyes to the Gulf Coast disaster. And the mere fact that some of you sent e-mails blaming those left behind for their situation instead of blaming those who could have saved them is a sign of something truly wrong with this country. No government closed its eyes and ears. You don’t seem to understand, especially in light of the extensive damages caused in Florida alone during the last two years by lesser storms, that a category 5 will, by definition, cause effects beyond any human ability to foresee, except that it will wreak absolute havoc. New Orleans suffered, not primarily because of Katrina’s immediate impact, but because of the levee-rupture, which was not even noticed until 24 hours after the storm hit. The wonder is that, considering the absolute failure of both Nagin and Governor Blanco, rescuers accomplished what they did in as short a time as they did it. It was amazing.

Why is $2,000 good enough for the folks in the gulf when hundreds of thousands of dollars were handed to the families of those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11? That’s a fair question. Stay tuned. You haven’t seen yet what the total outcome will be, but, while Katrina may not produce millionaires, the people will be cared for, as dislocated families are after every hurricane. But relocating and settling 150,000 families is something so off the level of consciousness of average people or of any government that overnight miracles simply will not happen, though many miracles have already been seen. A lot of them were wrought by white guys hanging off helicopters or slopping through the toxic waters of the city, trying to save people from an actually unimaginable disaster.

Just how much more must the poor give up before we realize the compassionate conservative, a theme our president espoused and liberals went right along with, does not exist? They haven’t been called upon to give up anything, and they certainly will not be called upon to give up anything else. Hurricanes do not call for giving up anything. They just take, thank you very much.

During the reign of Louis XVI of France, his wife, Marie Antoinette, was accused of saying the poor should eat cake if they had no bread. The French Revolution soon followed. Surely you’re too smart to go down that road.

It would be better to acknowledge the approaching train than to walk on the tracks in denial. Amen, sister! I used to be a locomotive engineer in another life, and I can attest to that.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Monday, September 12, 2005

Race-baiting Redux

[The resident race-baiter at the Lexington Herald-Leader is a lady named Merlene Davis. In her Sunday column of Sept. 4, she was at her best, accusing everyone she could think of – of every bad thing she could think of – of every bad motive she could think of – of course, especially if they happened not to be African Americans. In her Sunday column of Sept 11, Ms. Davis, still at her best, explained all about why hip-hopper (whatever that is) Kanye West said in the wrong venue that the president hates black folk. She even gave a lecture on freedom of speech. Here is an open letter to Ms. Davis]:

It was magnanimously enlightening of you to tell everyone why Kanye West scared a lot of folk (custom-made AK-47 maybe?) and said that George Bush doesn’t care about black people. He was hurting, so naturally he had to say George doesn’t care about black people. Wouldn’t anyone who is hurting say that Bush II doesn’t care about black people? After all, when one is hurting, one simply must say something. Of course, since he didn’t do anything substantial to help any folk in New Orleans, some of whom are (gasp) white (betcha didn’t suspect that), could some white rapper say that Mayor Ray Nagin doesn’t care about white people? No-o-o, that simply wouldn’t do…that might be thought of as (double gasp!) racist, and the columnists would skewer an idiot like that, ruin his reputation, maybe even call him names…might even accuse him of having no history of diplomacy. As you will agree in any case, white folk don’t hurt, so they have no right to say anything about anybody any time.

Kanye watched all those folk frying in the unforgiving sun (need to speak to God about that backsliding and otherwise sinful sun that won’t even forgive whatever needs forgiving) or slopping around in the Superdome and apparently thought those white folk hanging from those helicopters or slogging around in waste-deep toxic waters slipped in from Cuba, maybe, during the storm – just sorta blew in – and knew they’d be shot at for their trouble, but went on anyway. Of course, all those rapes and murders in the Superdome were done by white folk because the mayor didn’t send any help. White folk have to do something to pass the time of day or night, and they might just as well rape and bludgeon as anything else. Makes perfect sense, especially since white folk don’t hurt and therefore probably can’t scream, either, like Howard Dean, to let off a little steam.

West should have consulted you. If he had, he would have known it was okay to say what he did about the prez, but that he had to say it in the right venue, not out where people suspected of having brains might hear him and consider him a nincompoop. It’s in the Constitution – the freedom of venue. It’s right there in one of the articles: “When an unfeeling cad is president, he may be called such, but only in a state-approved venue,” presumably the nearest press conference or photo-op, but not where teleprompters are used.

Maybe you can help me understand why you mentioned the proper venue for railing against a cad-president, and then rambled on about folk having the freedom to speak their minds anywhere, and that soldiers (surely you didn’t mean in Iraq) are fighting for that – not just A venue, but ANY venue. Otherwise, all us other folk that are never gone before the cameras never would get to say anything. Gotta give you credit where it’s due…if freedom of speech is good enough for Afghans and Iraqis – presumably even women – it’s good enough for us back home. Astonishing!

Speaking of Teflon, do you think there’s anything to the rumor that Dubya, unfeeling cad that he is and hater of black folk, had Halliburton to mix some of it in the latest levee filler, so the levee would be sure to slip and slide and let the waters roll? I bet Kanye and the Dixie Chicks would give at least one vocal chord to know. The Chicks were mad because prexy is a Texan and West is mad because he’s a cad (your description, at least), so how can the poor president win? All the same, would even a Texas cad be mean enough to sabotage a levee? I wonder. That old levee had been there for a long time. Maybe the French booby-trapped that ground before selling it to old Thomas Jefferson. I’m betting that old Aaron Burr did the deed when he tried to steal it for himself and be the king of a brand-new empire. Alexander Hamilton thought he was a cad, and Burr burned him for that, so put two-and-two together.

In the meantime, watch out. If you see water rising on Midland, call Kanye and the Chicks, get an AK-47, and head for high ground. You can be sure Dubya’s formed a tsunami on the American Water reservoir and headed it right for the editor’s desk. A Texas cad, especially if he’s unfeeling, can be mighty mean.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Monday, September 05, 2005

Race-baiting at Its Best

The resident race-baiter at the Lexington Herald-Leader is a lady named Merlene Davis. In her Sunday column, she was at her best, accusing everyone she could think of – of every bad thing she could think of – of every bad motive she could think of – of course, especially if they happened not to be African Americans. Here is an open letter to Ms. Davis:

Thanks so much for your Sunday column, with its revelations about the refugee problem. Not to put too fine a point on your definition of refugee, these persons do come into being as a result of natural disasters. Those who ran for their lives last winter in the face of the tsunami returned to their homes only to find no homes, thus becoming refugees, so refugeeism does often happen that way.

What you may not know is that president Bush called in Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Rush Limbaugh during the first week of his recent vacation in Crawford. They decided that a hurricane was needed to punish democrats and that New Orleans was the best place for it to happen, since the city existed on only pure luck anyway and had almost no republicans, if any. They took up a collection and paid Castro’s top scientist and three smart taxi drivers to cook up a hurricane far out in the Atlantic, head it weakly toward Florida to provide cover for the big show, just touching Miami as a category one, but then turn into a beautiful monster in the Gulf to bear down directly on New Orleans as at least a category five, guaranteeing the destruction of the levee that everyone, especially those in New Orleans, knew was built just to handle a category three, not to mention blowing the buildings away in the bargain.

The president announced early on that everyone should evacuate New Orleans, Gulfport, and Biloxi, but knew that a poll taken that week in New Orleans indicated that 60% of the citizens would not leave, no matter what category. He then sent a note to the New Orleans mayor indicating that the poll showed that everyone would leave on their own, thus setting the stage for a real blast. The mayor, who apparently had never read the evacuation plan devised years before, anyway, didn’t furnish any buses or other transportation, didn’t stockpile any provisions, didn’t empty the nursing homes or hospitals, didn’t set up triage centers, didn’t mobilize his emergency forces, didn’t plan for looters, didn’t do anything, in fact, except practicing the “Dean Scream” in case he had to be heard over the noise, and certainly didn’t expect the levee to break, simply because it never had, at least seriously.

Castro, who hates Governor Barbour of Mississippi because he’s a republican and has a nice house, got wind of all this, arrested the scientist and the taxi drivers and tortured them for five seconds before the scientist turned the hurricane toward Biloxi, where another hated man, republican Senator Trent Lott, also had a nice house and even a late-model car, not to mention a pickup with two gun racks, and had once suggested that Strom Thurmond was actually human. That, alone, was enough to waste any republican.

The president knew that nothing could be done during Monday and Monday night, and not much of anything on Tuesday and Tuesday night because the roads would be flooded, the power out, the phones down, the bridges gone, and the mayor would be eating crab-cakes and drinking good wine. He was mad, of course, because of the Cuban double-cross, but took hope when the levee started breaking anyway. At that point, the mayor and his whole gang (mayor, police chief, city council, all of them African-American, as well as most of the policemen), having done nothing to prepare – well, come on, they had had only three or four days of warning – began screaming for somebody to do something, and sent out word for Louis Farrakhan to consult Qadaffi and start a revolution somewhere, preferably in Montana, so folks’ attention would be diverted elsewhere and not on them.

There was an eight-day plan to take care of an event like Katrina, and, even though the president had to be dragged along, the city was evacuated in only six days. The president knew that the mainstream media would work the public like a fine violin in whipping up angst against him, but knew when the inevitable hearings were held and the truth came out, his administration and the American citizens who carried the day, most of whom are white and hundreds of whom risked their lives, would be seen in a different light, thus impacting the elections in 2006.

I know this would sound incredulous to most folk, but you have the sophistication to understand the president and his seeming insensitivity to anything because you’re on the record as noting that white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males are direct descendents of Lucifer, the wicked angel cast out of heaven and winding up in the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve with a bowl of gumbo. The president is, of course, a WASPM.

If you should have an attack of reality, try this site: Center for the Study of Public Health Impact of Hurricanes. It’s about 51 pages long, was prepared a few years ago for New Orleans and should have been in the mind of the officials there, and predicted precisely what did happen. One of the most interesting statistics to come out of this document was the fact that roughly one-third of NO citizens insisted they would not evacuate even in the face of a category four hurricane (think hurricane Andrew) and only 55% of those on public assistance would leave. By simply using school-buses and city buses, everyone could have left, and the fact that the mayor did not see to the evacuation of the sick and other vulnerable people, even though he had plenty of time, makes him a sort of passive murderer, since he left them – in your words – like animals…to die.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark