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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 05:54 AM Thread Starter
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Katrina-a foreign perspective

September 16, 2005

Space, food, medicine, protection: it's better here in Barbara's hall of plenty
Gerard Baker



BARBARA BUSH. Don’t you just love her? Last week she put her elegant heel right into what her husband used to call deep doo-doo when she told a television interviewer that evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who had been housed in the Houston Astrodome were really very happy with their lot.
“What I’m hearing is that many of them want to stay in Texas,� the former First Lady said. “The hospitality has been so overwhelming. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.�



Not since Louis XVI’s missus puzzled about the dietary choices of indigent Parisians has there been such an appalling display of aristocratic ignorance. How dare she? How could she? Even the White House winced.

But in the disgust that greeted her remarks in Highgate and the Upper West Side no one stopped to consider the possibility that Mrs Bush was, in fact, dead right.

Anyone who has visited the most deprived parts of America’s cities, rather than merely empathised with them from afar, would have no difficulty whatsoever with the proposition that the inhabitants would prefer an air-conditioned sports stadium with all the food they can eat, the country’s best medical attention and the benign security of National Guard protection to the hunger, sickness and lawlessness in which many of them live.

Large parts of Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago or Los Angeles already look, on their best days, as though they have been hit by natural disasters. I’m not at all surprised to hear that the fortunate who made it to Houston are eager to start new lives there, rather than return to the crime-infested housing projects of New Orleans.

But Mrs Bush touched on a larger truth, almost wholly obscured in the rush to judgment. Most of the attention has focused on how the Government failed in responding to the disaster. I have done it myself. Grand conclusions have been drawn about the (flawed) nature of American society. I’ve done a bit of that too. But little has been said about what the response of ordinary Americans — not mayors or governors or presidents — tells us about the strengths of that same American society.

Another lucky group of New Orleans evacuees has been housed not far from where I live in Washington at the DC Armoury, the local headquarters of the National Guard. This week, along with the truckloads of food, water and clothes, came something that will, in the longer term, be of even greater assistance, a group of eager employers looking for workers.

Forty-two local businesses participated in a job fair for the new homeless at the Armoury on Tuesday; more wanted to take part but couldn’t because there was limited space. Twenty of the 150 or so evacuees were hired on the spot. An official at the District of Columbia government involved in organising the event said that more were expected to be offered jobs in the next few days. The exercise was such a success that employers are demanding another one. If there’s anyone left still to hire it will take place in the next couple of weeks.

The story is being replicated across the country. The victims of Katrina are getting new opportunities. Some of it comes from an immense outpouring of compassion by Americans in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable contributions and unquantifiable help in housing families and schooling children. Some of it comes from the unsentimental compassion of the free market: the unerring capacity of the capitalist system to match those who have something with those who need it, whether it be labour, capital, goods or services.

Both tell us far more about the way this country works, the strengths of its values and people, than the bureaucratic bungling in Baton Rouge and Washington.

Of course you will almost certainly not have read or seen much about this, especially outside the US. The world has indicted America once again on charges of ineptitude and racism and has moved on to more important matters such as Britney Spears’s baby. For a variety of reasons this good news about the response of ordinary Americans is of little interest to the media. First, no self-respecting reporter wants to waste his time with insights into the better angels of human nature. No one ever won a Pulitzer or a Bafta recounting banal tales of man’s humanity to man.

Secondly, it really doesn’t fit too well into the stereotype that entrances most of the world these days. Anything that doesn’t show Americans as stupid, selfish, warmongering, religious bigots, half of them living in pampered luxury in garish purpose-built Italianate mansions, the other half downtrodden in the ghetto by Halliburton stock-owning fat-cats, isn’t going to make it to the front pages or the Ten O’Clock News.

But the main reason I think these recovery efforts by millions of people attract insufficient attention is that most people have become conditioned to thinking solely in terms of government’s responsibility. Of course, the bulk of the recovery effort must be paid from public funds as President Bush announced yesterday but most Europeans and — despite decades of a so-called conservative revolution — a large number of Americans, can’t think beyond the government.

Something bad happens: it’s government’s fault for not preventing it. It’s government’s responsibility for cleaning up the mess. And if the mess gets bigger, that’s government’s fault too.

The irony is that New Orleans is one of those cities where government-dependency had reached such levels that a kind of economic and social anomie had set in. For many of its victims the escape depicted by Barbara Bush is just what they needed.


gerard.baker@thetimes.co.uk


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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 07:55 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

so, the refugees can get jobs but not the locals.. gotta love US...



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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 08:12 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

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mzsmbs - 9/16/2005 9:55 AM

so, the refugees can get jobs but not the locals.. gotta love US...
There really aren't many locals looking for jobs around here in DC, mzmbs. In fact, the illegals are so well employed they had to build a center for day laborers.
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 08:18 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

It's irrelevant whether she's right about the refugees being "better off", it was a disgusting thing to say. New Orleans is going to be a really horrible place to rebuild with all the chemical pollution now. Bill Frist was right too, that it's not worth rebuilding, however that is also not the right thing to say.

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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 08:49 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

old300d,

Quote:
Bill Frist was right too, that it's not worth rebuilding,
I assume "right", used here, means you feel he was accurate or correct.


Quote:
however that is also not the right thing to say
and I further assume "right", used here means you feel it was not politically correct.

I think NOW is the time to be pragmatic, not politically correct, don't you think?

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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 09:03 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

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Ears - 9/16/2005 10:49 AM

I think NOW is the time to be pragmatic, not politically correct, don't you think?
I'm going to go ahead and say that you're right as in accurate or correct.
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 10:35 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

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Ears - 9/16/2005 8:49 AM

old300d,

Quote:
Bill Frist was right too, that it's not worth rebuilding,
I assume "right", used here, means you feel he was accurate or correct.


Quote:
however that is also not the right thing to say
and I further assume "right", used here means you feel it was not politically correct.

I think NOW is the time to be pragmatic, not politically correct, don't you think?
Right. Er, I mean, "correct". [:D]

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 11:57 AM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

After major flooding in the Midwest, the federal government refused to give flood insurance to areas of cities along the Mississippi north of me. The guy with white hair had a special on it on CNN. Anderson something.

The Federal government should apply the same rules to NO, like they did to some of the cities in the Midwest.

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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 03:08 PM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

The reason for my little play on words (right and right) was to invoke a bit of thought. Since everyone who responded to my post(old300d and thatguy) agreed this is the time to be pragmatic, I ask the following: is it the correct thing to rebuild NO? Frist apparently does not think so, as do some others I'm sure. This has happened before, most recently in 1965 or 68 during hurricane Betsy, and now, approximately 40 years later (flooding of NO). If we (the nation) rebuild NO, are we going to face the same type of disaster again within the next 40 years, and at what cost to lives and tax dollars?

Of course nobody can predict the future, but it seems logical the same thing WILL happen again, regardless how much money is poured into the rebuilding effort. A city bounded by water and below that water level is subject to flooding again, don't ya think?


I know this is full of holes, so flame-on...

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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-16-2005, 08:02 PM
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RE: Katrina-a foreign perspective

Ft Payne had a flood a few years ago, didn't it?

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