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Commentaries on the Katrina disaster

The inadequate relief efforts have led to huge outrage in the US media. The leading newspapers in the US and in Germany blame primarily the Bush administration. Some argue that the mayor of New Orleans missed many opportunities to evacuate the poor.


The German paper "die tageszeitung" published an anti-American column full of malicous joy.


The American papers summarize US and world reactions, write about obliviousness and "dirty secrests of race and poverty," assume a "big bang" that will change the political culture, and worry about Texas' limited abilities to take care of more refugees as well as about the message the failed evacuation of New Orleans sends to terrorists.


Here are summaries, quotes and links to the full text of the commentaries:

Describing the response across the U.S, The New York Times speaks about the shame and

a deep collective national disbelief that the world's sole remaining superpower could not - or at least had not - responded faster and more forcefully to a disaster that had been among its own government's worst-case possibilities for years.


The LA Times summarizes the world's reactions to the crisis:

But the expressions of sympathy were mixed with a worldwide sense of amazement and disgust at the failure of American authorities to effectively deal with the crisis."
(...) The Bush administration has offered mixed signals on whether it would accept [foreign] aid. In an interview with ABC on Thursday, President Bush said the U.S. was not seeking foreign assistance. "This country is going to rise up and take care of it," he said. That statement prompted an angry editorial Friday from the Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner: "Sometimes even the high and mighty need to realize that we all need each other and that they would not lose face were they to accept some tangible help from others who have been the beneficiaries of their generosity in the past.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, said "We've turned down no offers"



There is some malicious joy in Germany
. taz columnist Philipp Mausshardt has a sick kind of humor and sarcasm. His article is an indication why the German word Schadenfreude is used in the English language as well:

Selbst Freude und Mitleid schlagen zur selben Zeit in meiner Brust. So freue ich mich beispielsweise momentan darüber, dass die jüngste Sturmkatastrophe nicht wieder irgendein armes Land, sondern die reichste Nation der Erde getroffen hat. Ja, ich sehe darin sogar eine Art ausgleichende Gerechtigkeit für das, was die Bewohner dieses Landes durch ihren Krieg im Irak anderen Bewohnern angetan haben. Es würde mich allerdings noch mehr erfreuen, wenn ich wüsste, dass nur Häuser von Bush-Wählern und Armeeangehörigen zerstört worden wären. Alle anderen tun mir aufrichtig Leid.

Translation: The taz columnist considers Katrina as payback and fair justice for what US citizens "have done to other countries' citizens by through the Iraq war." He wished that the hurricane had only affected Bush voters. He only feels sincere regrets for non-Bush voters, he says.



One fellow Fulbrighter emailed his outrage ab
out observing Schadenfreude among the German population and even his friends.


The conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that "people are mad as hell" and that a "big bang" will change the US political culture:

The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed. The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield. No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting. (...) Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.





One fellow Fulbright alumnus recommends a Salon
article by Joan Walsh, who believes the "horror in New Orleans has exposed the nation's dirty secrets of race and poverty."

Why didn't we send a caravan of buses into the city's poorest neighborhoods on Saturday or Sunday, when the dimensions of the disaster were already predictable? And what is really going to happen in Houston? These are dispossessed people who've been further dispossessed -- do we have a word for that? After a few days, the Superdome is already a slice of hell, with overflowing bathrooms, fights, rape allegations and now, people dying outside. (...)
The death toll from Katrina is likely to be higher than 9/11, but most of its victims will be black and poor, and I doubt we'll wage a war on poverty and neglect to match the war on terror launched after al-Qaida struck -- and if we did, I doubt it would be any more effective. The president, who continued his vacation while Katrina raged, just the way he kept reading "My Pet Goat" on 9/11. (...) Americans are ready to do the right thing. Americans want to help their neighbors -- even when those neighbors are people they don't know, who are poor and have different colored skin.





The liberal NYT columnist Frank Rich slams the Bush administration's obliviousness:

The president's declaration that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" has instantly achieved the notoriety of Condoleezza Rice's "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center." The administration's complete obliviousness to the possibilities for energy failures, food and water deprivation, and civil disorder in a major city under siege needs only the Donald Rumsfeld punch line of "Stuff happens" for a coup de grace. How about shared sacrifice, so that this time we might get the job done right? After Mr. Bush's visit on "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Diane Sawyer reported on a postinterview conversation in which he said, "There won't have to be tax increases.

Regarding the president's comment that nobody anticipated the breach of the levees, the Baltimore Sun writes:

In fact, scientists and civil engineers have been warning for years that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane would eventually strike, overwhelming a levee system on Lake Pontchartrain and the urban canal system that drains into it. (...) This year, the federal government cut the Army Corps' request for the project from $36.5 million to $10.4 million. The overall budget for the Army Corps' New Orleans district was cut by $71 million, or about 20 percent.

Frank Rich continues to compare the New Orleans relief efforts with the Titanic:

New Orleans's first-class passengers made it safely into lifeboats; for those in steerage, it was a horrifying spectacle of every man, woman and child for himself. The captain in this case, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, was so oblivious to those on the lower decks that on Thursday he applauded the federal response to the still rampaging nightmare as "really exceptional." He told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water" - even though every television viewer in the country had been hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day. This Titanic syndrome, too, precisely echoes the post-9/11 wartime history of an administration that has rewarded the haves at home with economic goodies while leaving the have-nots to fight in Iraq without proper support in manpower or armor. Surely it's only a matter of time before Mr. Chertoff and the equally at sea FEMA director, Michael Brown (who also was among the last to hear about the convention center), are each awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in line with past architects of lethal administration calamity like George Tenet and Paul Bremer.

He concludes:

We're going to have to face the reality that with this disaster, the administration has again increased our vulnerability to the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting after 9/11.



While bashing the Bush administration, Frank Rich, forgets to mention the fault of the city government of New Orleans. Davids Medienkritik criticizes the German media for making the same mistakes:

Of course the mayor of New Orleans is being portrayed as an angry hero who is demanding that Bush and his people get off of their asses and get to work. He and other Louisiana officials have barely been criticized or mentioned as responsible parties. And get this: Germany's media geniuses have largely failed to report (since it is always all Bush's fault anyway) inconvenient little facts like this (via Instapundit):

Judging from this photograph, the New Orleans authorities had plenty of unused buses had they chosen to take people out of the city rather than coop them up in the Superdome or the Convention Center. (...)

And why even try to get into the minutia of how disaster relief is organized along local, state and federal lines in the United States when it is so easy and ideologically satisfying to tell the German people that the Bush administration is fully at fault?





The conservative Wall Street Journal does not consider the lack of food and water for the many trapped children and elderly the most disturbing news, but opines:

Of all the bad news from New Orleans, the most disturbing has been the reports of spreading disorder, with looting, marauding gangs and even sniper fire at helicopters and rescue workers.

and concludes that in a crisis the first world is not that different from the third world: "This battle of New Orleans should remind us that civic order, even in America, is more fragile than we like to think."

While many blame the slow relief efforts on National Guards and their equipment being in Iraq, the WSJ points out:

The allegation that enough National Guard troops aren't available because many are deployed in Iraq doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The Louisiana Guard has something like 3,500 men and women deployed in Iraq, but that leaves another 8,000 or so troops available for post-Katrina duty, and neighboring states undamaged by the hurricane have still others who could be called upon. All told, the Pentagon now estimates that 30,000 National Guard troops will be deployed along the Gulf coast, and another 3,000 regular Army soldiers to pursue the armed gangs on the loose.




The Light of Reason is concerned about the message this disaster sends to terrorists:

Given the complete lack of federal preparedness for a major disaster revealed in the aftermath of Katrina, do other people feel more anxious about the possibility of another terrorist attack at the moment? I certainly do. I keep thinking about those people who might be planning another attack here in the U.S., an attack which Bush & Friends continually remind us is a certainty. Those planners who would do us great harm must be gleefully salivating at the prospect of unleashing destruction on us: "Look at how completely unprepared they are! Look at the chaos that continues a week after the hurricane! Look at how angry they all are at each other because of the colossal failures involved!"


USA Today writes about Texas' limited capacity to take more refugees:

With more than 220,000 hurricane refugees camped out in Texas and more coming, Gov. Rick Perry warned Saturday that his enormous state was running out of room. "Texas is committed to doing everything it can to help our neighbors from Louisiana, but we want to make certain that we can provide them with the medical care, food, shelter, safety, education and other services they need to start getting their lives back together," Perry said in a statement.

If you want to help: We have already posted a link to the American Red Cross.

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Chr. B on :

Some general calls New Orleans "little Somalia" and speaks about an insurgency and combat operations. What the hell is going on? http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-1077495.php

Martin Hermann on :

Adding insult to injury: The US could learn from Cuba how to evacuate a city: "Last September, a Category 5 hurricane battered the small island of Cuba with 160-mile-per-hour winds. More than 1.5 million Cubans were evacuated to higher ground ahead of the storm. Although the hurricane destroyed 20,000 houses, no one died. What is Cuban President Fidel Castro's secret? According to Dr. Nelson Valdes, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and specialist in Latin America, "the whole civil defense is embedded in the community to begin with. People know ahead of time where they are to go." "Cuba's leaders go on TV and take charge," said Valdes. Contrast this with George W. Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina. The day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Bush was playing golf. He waited three days to make a TV appearance and five days before visiting the disaster site. In a scathing editorial on Thursday, the New York Times said, "nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis." http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/090305Y.shtml

Jabba the Tutt on :

So, Martin, I guess you want Bush to be a totalitarian dictator like Fidel? The legal and moral authority for evacuation in the American systems lies with the local authorities. I hate to have to talk to you like a kindergartner Martin, the truth is, the Mayor of New Orleans could've ordered evacuation and the use of the busses, the Governor of Louisiana Blanco, waited 24 hours after Bush asked for authority and only ordered the evacuation after Bush pleaded with her to do so. So, Martin, grow up and leave childish things behind.

TM Lutas on :

The truth is that there is a tremendous need for solidarity and fellowship across the civilized world whenever there is a natural disaster of this scale. That response is lacking as people desperately hunt for scapegoats and partisan advantage. It tears at civilization everywhere when we pick and choose among the innocent. The hurricane did not focus it's strike on New Orleans. NO was actually on the weak side of the storm. There are entire communities that have been scoured down to the concrete foundation pads. There is nothing left. There are a dozen counties in multiple states that are declared disaster areas. The reporters who focus on bad stories focus on NO because that's where it is worst. Why aren't they concentrating where the storm was worst? Because the federal response teamed up properly with local and state officials in Mississippi and elsewhere who did their part properly and it is not "Lord of the Flies" there. The time now is to work together to meet the immediate needs of a tremendous humanitarian crisis. Criticism over what happened in 2004 or 1965 or any of the years in between should mostly be for later. The political scalps will be nailed to the wall and likely they'll be from both parties and all up and down the response chain from local officials who created a climate where two-thirds of the police force didn't show up for work when they were needed most to the days of delay in Baltimore for the sailing of a hospital ship. The list of failures will be long and the venom will flow. Now isn't the time. The dead have not been buried.

SB on :

I agree, solidarity is called for most right now. Investigating the failure, for which many are responsible, can be done later. Yes, many look for scapegoats now. Others are simply shocked that this mismanagement could happen in the United States of America, the great humanitarian superpower who quickly came to the rescue after the Tsunami. We want to know why and we want explanations, that's why we look for the reasons of the disaster. It's not blame game, but trying to understand how this could have happened. The whole world is surprised. TM Lutas, thank you for pointing out the policemen who did not show up to work. Do you know anything about the school bus drivers? The Instapundit article quoted above showed schoolbuses sitting around. Did NO order evacuation of the poor with these schoolbuses, but the drivers did not show up?

Shayananna on :

I'd also say that the media (regardless of location: US, UK, DE) is pandering to what people want - an easy single point of failure that everyone can put all the blame on and not have to think about things. Not have to consider that it could have been them, and that all places can have disasters of huge proportion. Not have to wonder how they would deal with the loss of everything that one owns. I spent a decent amount of time trying to get a common sense message to the small amount of people I can: Blame really doesn't help the situation; and scapegoats don't solve problems. I hope we all figure that out in time. http://dancingblonde.tripod.com/blog/index.blog?from=20050907

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