Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Well, there was a lot to do on that front, with Ernesto bearing down on his brother's Florida that day, and at the time working itself up to become some sort of hurricane, not just a "tropical storm." People needed to know the government, to which they had paid taxes for basic services, wasn't going to flake out on them again.
That called for PR - the White House had the week before put out a four-page document detailing what the administration has done for Gulf Coast residents in the past year, securing a hundred and ten billion in federal funds for recovery efforts, repairs to the damaged levee system and for removing many, many tons of post-storm debris from the gulf. But how hard was that? Like the congress, controlled by his own party, wasn't going to vote for the clean-up? No one had to twist any arms anywhere, heroically forcing the stingy bastards in congress to do the right thing. No one would, and no one did vote against helping here.
But then, only seventy-seven billion of the total funding has been released so far, and of that only forty-four billion spent, mostly going to big corporations in bed with the Republicans. There was the seventeen billion to rebuild over two hundred thousand homes, and after a full year that money is just starting to be released. Federal emergency officials, the DHS-FEMA crew, have said they're sure that the levees are ready for a major hurricane - the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, the guys who did the repairs, said it's not exactly clear whether the levees can withstand a big hurricane. Who are you going to believe?
The Knight-Ridder item linked her also quotes the president, kind of getting it - "I know there's some frustration. The checks have begun to roll. They're beginning to move."
After one full year, will "the check is in the mail" do here?
Maybe not. There's the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll - all of thirty-one percent of Americans now approve of the way Bush handled the hurricane, down a full fifteen points from a year ago, and fifty-six percent of us don't believe that the country is ready for another disaster of any kind. The administration has a hill to climb here.
This is not helped by a number of Democrats planning a conference call for Tuesday morning, along with the Campaign for America's Future, to outline the federal government's "failures" and to charge that hurricane rescue and recovery was hurt by "the conservative ideology of disinvestment, cronyism and corruption." And Nancy Pelosi released a broadside ending with this -
And then there were the pranksters.
CNN reports on them here, figuring out a little too late it was a hoax.
It was The Yes Men, the guys responsible for the Halliburton SurvivaBall (to protect managers against rapid climate change), and a hamburger made from human waste (to solve the global hunger crisis). They were the subject of the 2003 documentary The Yes Men - "A comedic documentary which follows The Yes Men, a small group of prankster activists, as they gain world-wide notoriety for impersonating the World Trade Organization on television and at business conferences around the world." (They fess up here.)
People are always too late to get it - they're not who they say they are. The trick is to start off sounding quite reasonable (and dress right). Then you get people to nod yes to all sorts of foolishness. And they fooled New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, and a full thousand construction-industry members at a privately-organized conference in Kenner, Louisiana.
It seems Andy Bichlbaum posed as a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official, a Rene Oswin, and pulled it off. He said the government was really going to help, and so was private industry.
Exxon and Shell would spend $8.6 billion "to finance wetlands rebuilding from $60 billion in profits this year." Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from poor neighborhoods and "help nurture local businesses to replace them." The federal government would spend $180 million to fund "at least one well-equipped public health clinic for every housing development." And the kicker - the federal government would reverse plans to replace public schools with private and charter schools, and instead create a national tax base to supplement local taxes.
HUD hurriedly confirmed Oswin wasn't part of their agency. Their spokeswoman Donna White - "This announcement is totally false; it's totally bogus. I'm like, who the heck is that?"
And she added - "It's really a sick, twisted - I don't even want to refer to it as a joke. At this point, it's not funny."
No, it isn't. The people and organizations that have the power to do good, and the government, which has the mandate to do good, don't do that sort of thing. It's not funny at all.
As for the president's problem, other than that nasty Yes Men hoax, Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times puts it nicely here -
Perhaps that's because the compassion is "self-described." There's not a whole lot empirical evidence for much compassion. But then, this administration is not big on empirical evidence.
And the Times item quotes James Thurber - not, not that one - the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington - "This is a real black mark on his administration, and it's going to stay with him for a long time. It will be in every textbook."
And then there's Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat - "I might argue that this was the worst thing that's happened to George Bush in the whole six years of his presidency. It was a perception-altering event. People had questioned his ideology. People had even questioned his intelligence. But before this, average people rarely questioned his competence or his caring."
That's followed by an array of "man in the street" quotes from Republicans who are fed up, followed by quotes from politicians on both sides who say he really does care - but that's just filler.
Better is this analysis from Matthew Yglesias, saying the president's political persona (whatever that might be) has been under-analyzed -
That's about right. The intentions and right attitude aren't much good for the people of New Orleans, or for the peoples of the Middle East. It's as if the quite predictable consequences of any policy don't matter - showing resolve does. And it's not helping.
Or maybe these guys just have a screw loose, as Kurt Vonnegut suggests in his latest book, the collection of essays, A Man Without a Country -
Well, Vonnegut is a bitter old man now. But old men know things.
And if the third of the country that still supports the president reads Vonnegut, this might happen -
Maybe so, but the "C- Students from Yale" are in charge. And they have no doubts. That seems to impress people no end. They're deadly serious, and they tell you so. And they're the only serious ones - everyone else is frivolous and wrong. They're changing the world. You cannot laugh at them.
One thinks of what Carl Sagan once said - "They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
There was a lot of bitter laughter on Katrina Day.
It should be noted that the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina got short shrift in the media, as did the wars, and Iran's ambitions, and the economy (new data - ninety percent of all workers are worse off than at any time since 1947), because the same day brought America this - "Schoolteacher John Mark Karr will not be charged with the murder of 6-year-old beauty pageant competitor JonBenet Ramsey, Karr's attorney said Monday."
The guy was a creep, or is a creep, but the crime scene evidence was clear - the DNA wasn't his, and there were no prints or anything else of his anywhere. He says he killed the kid, and they've dropped all charges. They canceled the arraignment hearing. He just wanted to be the murderer. He's one sick puppy.
America is amazed, and confused, and wonders who done it, so to speak. That sucked up all the airtime, and the column inches in the press. Katrina and the wars got pushed into the background. Damn, the OJ thing was more fun - we got a cool trial. Now we get nothing.
The whole thing left the Colorado governor, Bill Owens, saying things like this -
Yeah, well, whatever. The case is ten years old and nobody's business, outside the family involved and their friends. Yes, murderers should be caught and convicted and all. But this one ten-year-old case capturing the imagination of the nation? Ah, it's a compelling diversion from the far too real stuff, the stuff you actually don't want to matter - and it's full of safe vicarious thrills. It'll do. The other stuff is too depressing, and dangerous.
And out here in Los Angeles, the Sunday paper brought a four page promo for a movie about an unsolved Los Angeles murder from that same year, 1947 - Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, based on the James Ellroy novel. It opens September 15, but the promo was four pages of precise reproductions of every article on the case the Los Angeles Times printed in January 1947 - so it looked just like a regular news section. It seems no case is too cold for the American public. We do need other scary things to think about. The otherness is important, and it's Universal Studios to the rescue.
It may be a good idea to check the trade papers and walk up to the premier at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, whenever it is, and take some pictures for Just Above Sunset - maybe, now that he's free, John Mark Karr will jump out from the crowd and say he did it. You never know.
Some of us, of course, like plain old diverting news stories like this -
That's amusing, and reminds us we've let the dog drive for six years.