Category 4 Mind-Blower
My little son put down his Lego construction and came over to
me full of tears. “Dad I’m really scared,”
he said. “What if none of this is real and everything
is a dream? How do I know I’m not dreaming right now?”
Like any parent I did the best I could. We talked about the
reality of nature and the nature of reality and for this morning
my answers were good enough, though I suspect they really weren’t.
The reality of nature is that in our mountains it’s been
bone dry this past month while parts of the south saw 15 inches
of rain in a day plus 15 feet of ocean. No, we never know if
reality’s going to shift into something unimaginable except
in dream or some sort of waking nightmare. All we can do is
stay conscious enough to plan and respond as effectively as
we can. Personally, we each try and figure out our own ways
to do those things. But collectively we have to rely on elected
officials and the people they appoint to make sure we’re
as safe as we can be. That, it turns out, is the scariest thing
hurricane Katrina has washed over the national consciousness.
And for many of us, it’s swept away any illusion that
in the event of real crisis, our basic security is in any way
So where was our nation’s leadership as the perfect storm
of death slowly spun toward a major American city? The President,
as usual, was vacationing at his Texas ranch, the Vice President
at his Wyoming one. The Secretary of State was in New York shopping
for $600 Ferragamo shoes. The guy in charge of FEMA who’d
trained for his job by running the International Arabian Horse
Association was at least in his office, even if he had no idea
what was happening outside it. They obviously don’t get
CNN or the Weather Channel there, probably just Fox News and
the 700 Club, both of whom were busy opining about how we should
assassinate foreign heads of state, or noting how there are
those who believe that homosexuality causes hurricanes and meteors.
Perhaps, in view of such an odd media climate, FEMA figured
they should send a thousand people down south with clipboards
and a stated mission to enhance the agency’s PR profile.
The end result was an unknown number of dead Americans who didn’t
need to die, and the sight of our Homeland Security structure
disintegrating in the face of something everyone could see coming
plain as day and far in advance.
The storm itself was followed by a freak counterspin out of
Washington. Heck, nobody guessed the levees would break said
the guy whose department’s studies said they would. Prominent
Republicans immediately laid blame on state and local officials,
Democrats pointed out how the Bush administration slashed $105
million urgently sought for New Orleans flood control to a fraction
of what was needed, while simultaneously managing to find $231
million for a bridge on an uninhabited Alaskan island. Then
came the blaming of victims; early reports of savage violence
turned out to be wildly exaggerated, while truths about surrounding
towns turning away black evacuees walking out on bridges are
just emerging. And quickly, the bigger problems started to come
out… command & control, communications, National Guard
resources… and people had little trouble understanding
that domestic casualties were in some part, at least, a direct
if unforeseen cost of the war in Iraq.
After a few days the President finally flew in for a first quick
photo op at an emergency food distribution center. German television,
and Louisiana’s own senator, reported that the moment
he left, the entire operation was disassembled and trucked away
with people still waiting for food and water watching in disbelief.
No doubt many of them feel better now, knowing the Department
of Homeland Security has hired the Blackwater mercenaries, the
same private security force we use for the really tough jobs
in Iraq, to help patrol New Orleans. And in case the Blackwater
guys eventually need some backup, Chuck E. Cheese is busy helping
recruit 3 to 6 year-olds for the Permanent War by continuously
running MTV-like videos from the Defense Department featuring
soldiers handing out candy to happy Iraqi kids, big-eyed puppets,
and plenty of way-cool shots of US warplanes and tanks. Looks
like some people are planning a long, long war for us ahead.
So what’s coming up short term? More insane profiteering
by the energy industry, no doubt, probably accompanied by talk
of new threats of supply instability, real or made up…
the goal being to make us grateful gas is only $3.50 and not
$4.50 this week for a commodity refined, shipped, and paid for
back when it sold for $2.25. In retrospect, we all should have
bought Halliburton stock; it’s flying, and we could be
too if the Vice President would just sell off some of his shares.
The reality is we’re probably at the beginning of an inflationary
spiral just like in the late 1970’s when gas was rationed
and double-digit inflation and interest rates ground the economy
to a standstill. It’s all about the cost of energy, the
pain’s just starting and going to get worse, and the biggest
impact will be on those who can least afford it, like the poor
left to fend for themselves in New Orleans.
We’re hopeful for a forthright, independent review from
Congress of the manmade dimensions of Katrina’s impact.
And among our prayers for those whose lives have been shattered,
we’re including one that nobody in our government does
anything to annoy the Canadians, the Venezuelans, or some of
our other key energy suppliers.