When The Levee Breaks

.
.
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
When The Levee Breaks I’ll have no place to stay.

Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

In the face of what ought to be the most serious and profound Presidential election in the last 75 years, and with the opening of the Democratic Convention on the brink, it seemed appropriate to recalibrate for a moment. Over three days has been spent on the sophomoric PR stunt by the Obama campaign to play the Vice Presidential selection like some kind of two bit cross between a high school prom queen election and American Idol. "We’ll text our special friends first! You’ll be the first to know". Please. Spare me.

That is the good side; on the other there is some senile, angry, old, self-entitled curmudgeon that doesn’t even know how many houses he owns, nor what kind of car he drives. The media and, yes, even the blogs, lap this idiocy up like milk to starving kittens. Almost makes you wonder if something important hasn’t been forgotten in the headlong rush to inanity.

Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005. Three years ago to this very day.

Katrina was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest hurricane on record that made landfall in the United States and caused devastation along much of the north-central Gulf Coast. The most severe loss of life and property damage occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed, in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland. The hurricane caused severe destruction across the entire Mississippi coast and into Alabama, as far as 100 miles (160 km) from the storm’s center.

The storm surge caused severe damage along the Gulf Coast, devastating the Mississippi cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Ocean Springs, Gautier, Moss Point, and Pascagoula. In Louisiana, the federal flood protection system in New Orleans failed in more than fifty places.

Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Hurricane Katrina passed east of the city, subsequently flooding 80% of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks. At least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion (2005 U.S. dollars) in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. (Information here culled from the Wiki Katrina entry, which is a superb reference.)

The devastation and desolation occasioned by Katrina struck a deep nerve in America. The despair played out in front of our eyes non-stop, in real time, on television. The powerful and overwhelming images portrayed every characteristic of the pathos and hopelessness of third world countries that we had become accustomed to seeing. But it was not a third world country on the other side of the globe, conveniently out of sight and mind. It was America. It was New Orleans. Birthplace and home of jazz and creole cooking; one of the most important sea ports in the country. Mouth of the Mississippi. It was us, it was our people; our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.

Katrina was much more than that though. Katrina was the hot, sharp knife that filleted open, not just for the progressive activists that daily work the beat, but for all of the country, the cold and detached callousness, incompetence and strict focus on self serving greed of the Administration of George W. Bush. With the flood of Katrina came the real turn of the tide on the malicious cancer that has been the Bush/Cheney control of our country. The hellish wrongheaded blunder that is Iraq, the overarching albatross hanging around the neck that it is, still played out in a remote land, with aggrandized and propagandized reporting. The stench and the death were there, not here. Even the deaths of our own soldiers haven’t really etched into the surface of our consciousness; it has been a sanitized hell. Over there, not here.

But there was nothing antiseptic about Katrina and it’s aftermath. The caustic, toxic waters flowing through a great American city carried the death, despair and decay to all of us. They left an indelible and uncomfortable mark. An American Presidency born and sold through stagecraft and fraud instead of deeds. A Bush/Cheney Administration that had a long arm for taking from the American citizenry, but a pitifully short arm for giving.

The moment, however, does not seem to have lasted. The politicians went down to the bayou and made their speeches and promises. Bush invaded the grand symbolic heart of New Orleans, Jackson Square, and put on a stagelit production worthy of Leni Riefenstahl. Bush, predictably, stepped on the downtrodden people of New Orleans on the way to his propaganda moment, and then welched on all his rhetorical promises. John Edwards announced his candidacy from the wrecked ground of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and built his entire "Two Americas" campaign theme on those images. Now both the Edwards medium and message are down the crapper with his political future, abandoned by him along the road of personal lust and indiscretion.

So, here we are three years later. The politicians have gone, the stagecraft moment having passed. The grand promises made by Bush, like so much else in his wake, broken. The Ninth Ward still a blighted mess with no rebuilding and it’s life as a community hanging by a thread. The population of New Orleans still down, with many of her people never to return home again. Worst of all, the city itself is still in peril from the very forces and neglect that took it down three years ago. In a fine work that is a must read in it’s entirety, AP/MSNBC reports:

Katrina’s storm surge laid bare the incomplete and inadequate work.

What happened? By 1968, a Congress worn down by the Vietnam war and economic turmoil began reining in spending; at the same time, the work met resistance from Louisiana politicians, communities, environmentalists and businesses fighting for individual interests.

For example, the corps scrapped a plan in the 1970s to build a floodgate at the entrance to Lake Pontchartrain out of concern that it would impede boats and marine life. Next, the alternate plan to build gates at the mouths of city drainage canals was rejected. Finally, the corps built floodwalls on the canals — and they broke during Katrina.

Can this sort of history repeat itself?

In a yearlong review of levee work here, The Associated Press has tracked a pattern of public misperception, political jockeying and legal fighting, along with economic and engineering miscalculations since Katrina, that threaten to make New Orleans the scene of another devastating flood.

Dozens of interviews with engineers, historians, policymakers and flood zone residents confirmed many have not learned from public policy mistakes made after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which set the stage for Katrina; many mistakes are being repeated.

"All the human instincts post-Katrina are the same (as) post-Betsy," said Oliver Houck, a natural resources law professor at Tulane University and longtime New Orleans resident who participated in many of the fights since Betsy.

Politicians have pushed for development in wetlands, undercut flood protection efforts with legislation and balked at paying for levee work.

"We keep building in holes, and contractors keep trying to move in and take advantage of a situation: They come in with a bunch of contractors, sell off property in low places, take their money and run," Sullivan said.

So, as we head into the big Democratic National Convention, lets reflect back on a defining moment, and what it meant. Because Katrina and the hell in the Big Easy is not something we should be shining on, putting behind us and forgetting. And it is not just New Orleans and the Gulf Coast either, there is a Katrina waiting to happen to every community and to every one of us. Spring flooding in the midwest, fallen bridges in Minnesota, fires in California, drought in Georgia. Our ecosystem is out of balance, and our infrastructure in severe need of repair. Now is not the time for idle chatter and twitter, it is not about houses and spouses. This country faces serious and huge problems, we need genuine leadership and substantive solutions. Just exactly what does it take to get that across to the people who would represent us that are gathered mile high in Denver Colorado? Because, we do not want a repeat of the two stooges at left, who were eating cake while America bled in Katrina.

NOTE: The video at the top is "When The Levee Breaks" set to still and video of Katrina. Very powerful, take a look.

Comments are closed.