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Monday, September 05, 2005

A Different Tune For An 'Act of God'

When we wake up from the nightmare that the first decade of the third millennium has turned out to be, I suspect that many of us would be happy that we survived at all. In the first five years of this new century alone, we have witnessed both human cruelty and nature's fury in a grand scale. Pictures of gruesome brutality have become a 'fact of life' for this generation of mankind - a never-ending reality show of death and inhumanity proliferated with greater ease through new media, communication, and information technology. Man's darkest nature has been more readily exposed in these last few years through violent conflict, shameless criminality and pronounced incompetence. Terrorism, war, and natural disasters are what will undoubtedly mark our collective memories of this treacherous decade.

As the sun sets on these difficult times, those who claim great leadership in the face of man-made brutality may very well end up exposed by nature as nothing but a falsehood - a lightening rod that promises to deliver light to our dark alleys but ends up setting fire to our neighborhood trees. Men become entrapped in the incompetent and arrogant clutches of false leadership because they desperately fear and selfishly hope. Yet, it is always that invincible cruelty of nature that returns to fully expose the true disposition of the ability, sincerity, and character we claim to possess.

In the aftermath of this latest human tragedy in the Gulf Coast of the United States, many, including some close allies of the current administration, have loudly criticized the federal response to Katrina, especially in New Orleans where the storm left behind a sea of devastation, death and desperation. As the recovery efforts continue, I have no doubt that such criticism will intensify and congressional inquiries into leadership failures pre- and post-disaster will follow.

This is now a whole different situation politically than post-9/11, when a full and honest critique of leadership was unattainable. Criticism at the time was immediately labeled by the rabid pundits of the new political elite as "sympathy and apology for terrorism" - The slogan was: "Blaming the preparedness and response of the government to 9/11 is tantamount to siding with the terrorists". This blackmailing tactic worked beautifully in that it silenced even the most daring of critics and turned the US media - with a very few exceptions - into a lap dog of the reigning political elite for the better half of this decade - repeating scripted 'Talking Points' at nauseam so as to manufacture public consent for incompetent, self-interested, and arrogant policies - This in a democracy where the sacred duty of journalism is supposed to be monitoring the centers of power on behalf of the citizens of this republic.

Now, things are different. Natural disasters have a way of making pro-government arguments made in the aftermath of criminal acts like 9/11 difficult to repeat. What will they say this time? "Blaming the preparedness and response of the government to Katrina is tantamount to siding with GOD"!!?? Things are different now, because Americans died (possibly in numbers superior to those of 9/11) and there is no foreign force to blame for that - no terrorists and no "axis of evil" governments - Just "God", and no one likes to blame God especially within the political base of the current administration. It is after all an irony of life that those who assert monopoly over divine inspiration and mission find themselves often contradicted by the same force whose truth they claim to hold.

The political landscape is surely going to see a readjustment in the next few months and years although the extent of such change remains unclear. But it is certain that things are different now and that the political supremacy some current elements have enjoyed during recent years, especially since 9/11 is bound to crack. Some leading senators and political figures are already recognizing this and they are gradually shifting positions - moving chess pieces - whether it is on Iraq or domestic policy.

Katrina exposed more than the unpreparedness of the bureaucratic child of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security, and the lack of leadership at the executive level of government. It also exposed the failure of this nation to eradicate poverty within its own borders and to fully integrate its African American community some 42 years since Dr Martin Luther King professed his dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In fact, all members of Congress have to do is take a 10-minute cab trip from the Capitol to South East DC to find this out for themselves. The images of Katrina's aftermath will affect the short-term political discourse in this country at least until forgetfulness returns to condemn anew the less privileged and the most vulnerable to the cruelty of neglect.

An economist once said that risk in politics is the combination of hazard and outrage - the latter being the main driver. When outrage is high, then risk is perceived to require immediate and bold action. The outrage of Katrina's aftermath is surely going to command some changes, although one can only speculate as to the extent of those changes. Will there be an end to Pork in the legislative process? Will congressional funds be finally allocated to sustainable programs that bring about real change to this country's most vulnerable communities? Will impulsive foreign policy moves be accounted for and restrained? Will bureaucratic waste and incompetence be curtailed? Will there be accountability for poor leadership?...Probably all wishful thinking, but if anything, we are entitled to dream just a little longer.

10 Comments:

Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

However, the inquiring minds must also look into the history of previous administrations and New Orleans, as well as the failure of the state and local governments.

September 05, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Hi Irina.

First, the poverty question I raised as well as the plight of African Americans and the poor white community in this country are the collective failure of this country - republican, Democrat and independent - they are all equally responsible. That is why I laid that responsibility on the U.S. Congress and the political elite of this country when I called for them to take a cab ride to SE DC - not just Republican members but all members. Katrina exposed this failure in New Orleans but there are a great many cities including the capital of this nation where poverty among Americans is mind-boggling.

However, at this time unless it is otherwise, the Republicans are in control and thus they shoulder a major part of the responsibility for what happens now - there is no escaping this reality no matter how you sugar-coat it. If the democrats were in power, I would be just as critical because this is a performance issue Irina. This administration created the Department of Homeland Security - they bragged for 5 years now about how they make this nation safe and how they have greatly improved the response capabilities of the federal government. Now, their own words came back to bite them in the butt. So, they have to eat their own words. They got too arrogant and started believing their own junk - So, they need to be held accountable and that's the bottom line.

One other thing, think about their claim of having secured the homeland in the aftermath of what happened in New Orleans. Sorry, but I don't buy it. We can't let them get away with incompetence not on issues of survival and well-being of the citizens and residents of this country especially the most vulnerable. Not when billions of dollars are diverted in Pork money to the well-off (see Energy Bill, Highway Bill, Defense Bill, Homeland Security Bill, Drug Prescription Bill). They got too power-happy in DC and that needs to stop.

Look all Americans have to do is vote every incumbent out of Congress in the 2006 election - republican or Democrat. Just vote every single incumbent out of office. This will send a tremendous message to those up for election in 2008 and 2010. I guarantee you that things will get moving. This is the nuclear option that the citizen holds but takes so much for granted.

September 06, 2005

 
Anonymous crucivore said...

désolé jawad de ne pouvoir lire "fluently", mais cela m'a l'air interessant.
good luck !!

September 06, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

I don't think taking only the federal government to the account will solve the problem. Look how different the situation is from what happened in New York after 9/11. In New York, the local/state governments got themselves in gear and handled the situation very competently, minimizing the looting and other problems. In New Orleans, the local/state governments seem to remain completely out of it and the only thing they do is ask the federal government for help. What they need is someone like like Giuliani. Obviously, a natural disaster requires federal intervention, and obviously FEMA did not react the way it should have - but feds should be concerned with all of the area, not just New Orleans, because our government is supposed to be functioning on all its levels.

September 06, 2005

 
Blogger laurenbove said...

Before and during 9/11/01 the states and local gov't were prepared, had better communication between groups and weren't muck and mired in the larger burocracy that is now "HOMELAND SECURITY" that FEMA now belongs inside of instead of outside. Not to mention all our resources outside the country busy Building Democracy in Iraq.

FEMA has been castrated and wrapped up in a ball of red tape and I'm tired of the Bush protection fan club. It's not a game and we have to take this miserable lack federal action and federal leadership seriously.

Don't we all feel better now that Bush has taken care to "fix" our homeland security so nicely? Oh it is so much better now that we're distracted with terrorism possibilites and too busy to do anything about the disaster we SAW coming at us and knew would happen.

Oh yeah. We're SO much better off.

September 07, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Merci et Bienvenu Crucivore. J'espere qd meme que tu va essayer de me lire :) Je serais aussi ravi de te donner un resume en francais s'il y a un post en particulier qui t'intrigue.

September 07, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Irina: Not taking the federal government to account is the problem! We haven't for years while some up here in DC were enjoying post-911 accountability-free zone. You talk about looting - you know which looting gets to me the most: The looting of the federal budget that's what. If you have not already, I strongly suggest you take any appropriations Bill (I know they are painful to read) - but just once go through the whole thing and see what kind of looting takes place in Congress. The federal budget has been looted in great many ways post-911 (so I would not call looting limited during that time - if anything it was record-setting) - see department of Homeland security bill and the defense appropriations bill including supplementals. Heck, just look at the energy bill and the highway bill that were passed before congress went on "break". That is looting. My point is that there are people who are in need of basic services in this country. There are people in dire need of health care, education and basic necessities a few blocks away from the United States Congress!!

In addition, (we talked about this before in previous posts) the Congress is doing almost nothing to enhance the competitiveness of future generations of Americans.

Lastly, Manhattan is not New Orleans. This is something that is now part of the 'Talking Points' of the partisans of this administration so as to divert blame to local officials - who are not blameless, I agree. However, back to my point, Manhattan is prime real estate where most people are relatively well-off - those who live in it and those who work in it. Manhattan has major-city resources because of its position as a financial hub of this country. I like Giuliani but he had resources far superior to those available to the mayor of New Orleans. In addition, as I said earlier, there is the poverty issue here that we can not ignore, whereby people just did not know how to get out - this was not the case in downtown Manhattan. Finally, the damage from the attacks on New York was containable - it was limited to a few blocks of a city district. So, law enforcement can evacuate and cordon it off in a manner that is much easier than let's say 80% of a drowned New Orleans.

Bottom line is, I don't think there is anyway around some big inquiries/investigations into what happened. No way around addressing why immediate needs like failing infrastructure are ignored while billions are provided for pet projects of a so-and-so. I just hope that someone is finally held to account so that we can have renewd hope in the real ideals of American democracy.

September 09, 2005

 
Anonymous barney g. said...

Jawad

In your original post (OP), you said:
Katrina "also exposed the failure of this nation to eradicate poverty within its own borders and to...". This is true, but it is not for want of trying!

Do you remember Lyndon Johnson's WAR ON POVERTY? He started it in the mid-1960s, or about 40 years ago. Though spending many many millions of dollars, he did not wipe out poverty. Didn't even come close.

What is poverty? That was intended as a rhetorical question; I DO know what poverty is (been there, done that!) but I don't know how the government defines it. We need to make sure that their definition is not automatically adjusted so that a percentage of the people will always be 'poor'. That would be self-defeating and every 'war on poverty' program would fail.

barn

September 13, 2005

 
Anonymous crucivore said...

Jawad
Bien sur qu'une traduction m'interesse.
Je publie demain à 0.10 une rétrospective des évennements je serais heureux d'avoir ton commentaire + la traduction de ton post que je publierai in texto.
Plus les avis sont nombreux, + c'est instructif.

October 19, 2005

 
Anonymous crucivore said...

Oups!!!!
Ce n'estpas demain, mais Dimanche.
Néanmoins, tu peux jeter un coup d'oeuil, le billet est aux archives.
>calendrier + 30 septembre 05.

October 20, 2005

 

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