I'm going down the river, down to New Orleans.
They tell me everything is gonna be all right,
But I don't know what "all right" even means. - Bob Dylan
I'd like to write about something else, but I can barely think of anything else.
Where does Hurricane Katrina's official death count stand now? Has it broken 100 yet? Let's not kid ourselves: counting those now dead and those surely soon to die, there are likely to be thousands, even tens of thousands of fatalities.
There's a Tuesday night conversation with a paramedic in Gulf Port, Mississippi reported on Free Republic. He described scenes of bodies hanging in trees and entire families found drowned in their homes. When told the official number of dead, "he got very quiet," then said "dude, we are picking up 30 at a time...thousands are dead. Why aren't they saying...? I guess I better shut up then - don't give my name."
Perhaps they'll be counted like the dead of Iraq, and we'll never know the truth, only believe it.
The magnitude of the devastation, and the rapidly deteriorating situation in New Orleans, seems finally to be dawning on the corporate media. Still, the lead story too often is "looting," like it too often isn't when the looters are CEOs stealing the necessities of someone else's life. We ought to remember Donald Rumsfeld's analysis of the tearing of another city's social fabric: "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?'"
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is "very upset" an attempt to plug the breach in the levee was called off, and doesn't know by whom: "He said the sandbags were ready and all the helicopter had to do was 'show up'.... He was assured that officials had a plan and a timeline to drop the sandbags on the levee breach." He is still not sure who gave the order to cancel it. At another Press Conference, Nagin complained about being unable to reach the White House, as the White House said they were in constant communication, and FEMA representatives claimed everything were under control.
Since 2003, Washington has been diverting funds intended for the repair of the New Orleans' levee system and pouring them into the breach of Iraq. Nearly half of Louisiana's National Guard are also in Iraq, I suppose to fight the hurricane over there so we don't have to fight it over here. Instead of the protection of the Guard, the Gulf Coast is falling under the authority of Northern Command ("Defending the Homeland is Job #1") which, since it's creation in 2002, has been a violation of the spirit and the law of the Posse Comitatus Act. But nevermind that now, since martial law has made land in New Orleans.
There is something unnatural about this. I don't mean to suggest that the hurricane was driven by HAARP or scalar waves, though I could. Because as I've said before, we are entering a period of human history - the final period, if we don't watch ourselves - in which our speaking of the natural world means little more than a nostalgic conceit. That which used to be expressly "Acts of God" are being folded into the mission of the US military. Hurricanes are steered by winds in the upper atmosphere, and HAARP gives the Pentagon "strategic control over the upper atmosphere." Are we crazy for suggesting it's possible, or are they crazy for making it possible?
What I mean here by unnatural is both the half-measured response of federal authorities and the bizarre and inappropriate response of Bush.
Consider a President with an approval rating edging into the mid-30s. What has he been doing this week? Playing golf. Speaking before another military audience about the "War on Terror," suggesting a specious link between 9/11 and Iraq and comparing himself to Franklin Roosevelt. Visiting the South West. Posing with a huge cake and licking his fingers. Pretending to play the guitar. Getting on with his life, then cutting his month-long "working vacation" short by 24 hours. (And what has Dick Cheney been doing? When no one seems to know, I worry.)
Perhaps more disturbing than the evident lack of serious attention to the worst disaster - natural or otherwise - in modern American history is that, even as Bush's numbers bottom out, the White House is not compelled to make a serious effort to appear as though it gives a damn. Not only don't they care, but they no longer need to be seen to care. And that seems to me like another remarkable catastrophic success story.