Sunday, September 04, 2005

Thoughts on a Wretched Week

The events in the world this week have made this one of the most difficult I can remember. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have consumed our television and radio and our thoughts and discussions the past six days. In addition to the hurricane and despite receiving little media coverage, there was more tragedy in Iraq this week when more than 900 Shi'ite Muslims were killed in a panic-filled stampede amid rumors of suicide bombers on a bridge over the Tigris River. This week magnified human suffering.

Like most Americans I suppose, the situation in the Gulf Coast captivated me despite the equally tragic situations elsewhere in the world. Every outlet I turned to for information -- TV, radio, the internet -- was covering the hurricane. The technology we have in this day and age is phenomenal -- we see photos in newspapers, live camera feeds from helicopters, streaming video on the internet, personal accounts on blogs. Yet despite all the technology that connects us, I still felt disconnected and helpless as I watched on television as people were desperate for help.

By Wednesday when little to no help had arrived in New Orleans, I grew very frustrated and angry. There is no excuse for the slow response to the victims of the hurricane. The government's lack of response for five days led to increased suffering for those who did make it out alive and deaths to other people that could have. In the twenty-first century in the richest and most technologically advanced society in the world, it is hard to believe we couldn't reach the people hit the hardest by the hurricane.

In a scathing editorial Sunday, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans published an open letter to the President that was highly criticial of the government's response. I share the opinion voiced here that the government, whose fundamental purpose is to serve the people it represents, failed the people in Louisiana this past week. I also share the opinion with many people critical of President Bush's reaction to the tragedy. I do not blame the Bush administration for the tragedy itself, but I do blame the president for a defining lack of leadership in the hurricane aftermath. When he finally toured the Gulf coast after returning from his vacation, he once again fell back on talking points, platitudes, and rose-colored, disingenuous analysis of the situation -- just as he does when he talks to Americans about the realities in Iraq. His response on camera to FEMA director Michael Brown this week, "You're doing a heck of a job Brownie." It is time for people to demand answers, not talking points and photo ops.

I hope two things come out of this tragedy in the Gulf -- accountability and frank discussion. For the first time in a long time, I was impressed with the way the national media covered the hurricane. The media helped bring images and stories to the forefront that many in charge with the national response would not have known about otherwise. The reporters were aggressive, demanding, and fair which is absolutely what we need the media to be in our society. The second outcome I hope for is frank discussion -- discussion in the government with facts about what went wrong with the response, who was responsible, and what we can do in the future to prevent another mismanaged response. I also hope there is frank discussion about race -- the overwhelming majority of the people left behind in New Orleans were poor and they were black. If we hide from that reality, it only does us a disservice and further deepens the plight of poor, black Americans.

Hopefully we see some leadership in the coming months to move us in the right direction.

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