What Fresh Hell Is This?

August 21, 2006

"When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts"

HBO : Acts I and II premiere tonight, August 21 at 9pm (ET/PT),
followed by Acts III and IV on Tuesday, August 22 at 9pm.
All four acts will be seen Tuesday, Aug. 29 (8:00 p.m. -midnight),
the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

As the Bush/Rove Team try to ratchet up the level of fear before the November 2006 election by once again presenting the Republicans as the only hope to protect the American public from TERROR, I'm betting that they'd rather we'd all just concentrate on the fifth anniversary of September 11th and skip over the upcoming August 29th one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

But as the New York Times review of Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts reminds us:
Calvin Mackie, a professor of mechanical engineering at Tulane University in New Orleans, notes in the film that the damage of 9/11 was confined to 16 square acres of Manhattan, while the devastation wrought by Katrina encompassed 90,000 square miles. At the time of the filming, which took place as recently as June, only 70 percent of the debris had been removed from the city, he says, and that 70 percent amounted to 25 times as much as was carried away after the collapse of the World Trade Center.
While the terror in 9/11 came from those outside this country who wished us harm, the terror of Katrina came from the incompetence and neglect of those who occupied the top positions in the federal government -- the people who local and state authorities mistakenly believed they could rely upon when their own resources were overwhelmed.

The federal government's near total lack of action in the first few days after Katrina played out live on the nation's TV screens and provided, perhaps, the first real crack in the public's confidence in the Bush Administration's abilities.

After one year, how has this administration acquited itself? A recent AP article reveals that the promise made by President Bush to "do what it takes" to rebuild the broken lives and cities devastated by Katrina has not been kept. According to that article:

- EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE: A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on "improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments."

- CLEANUP: The job still isn't done. More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding.

- REBUILDING: Despite Bush's Jackson Square promise to "undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities," state and local officials had a hard time reaching a deal for federal aid to help residents rebuild their ruined homes.

- LEVEES: The federal government hasn't broken any promises with regard to flood protection — mostly because it has assiduously avoided making any.

- POVERTY: Bush offered three proposals in Jackson Square to help combat poverty around the Gulf Coast region. Two of them never went anywhere — the creation of "worker recovery accounts" that would help evacuees find work by paying for school, job training or child care while they looked for employment, and an Urban Homesteading Act that would give poor people building sites for new homes that they would either finance themselves or obtain through programs such as Habitat for Humanity.
You can rest assured that the last thing Republicans want is for the public to be reminded of one of Bush's biggest failures only two scant months before an election which already promises to be a referendum on their top elected official. As their candidates scurry to disassociate from their party's standard bearer you can best believe that they hope that the public will be tuning into the latest distraction of JonBenet Ramsey instead of what the Washington Post describes as a documentary that makes its point "as relentlessly as a prosecutor in a court of law."

According to the WAPO, "Lee is clearly out to make an overwhelming case about government ineptitude, carelessness and racism, but the film is polemical in essence without being heavy-handed," and "The usual suspects are allowed to simply hang themselves. And so we hear from President Bush, Michael 'You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie!'"

But, the WAPO review also makes clear that "ordinary people carry the narrative," and that "It is the anger that cuts deepest -- a righteous, laser-focused anger born of betrayal, laced with sadness, a rumbling anger that pumps like blood through the veins of Spike Lee's masterly Katrina documentary..."

It's this anger that Republicans fear most. The anger at the incompetence, stupidity and bullheadedness over not only Katrina, but Iraq, immigration, and record gas prices at a time of record wage stagnation. And, they might want to watch how many times they refer to 9/11 while Osama bin Laden still enjoys his freedom five years down the road.

But back to Spike Lee's new joint. I'm a huge fan of a lot of Spike's work -- my one real criticism being that he often doesn't seem to know how to end some of his films. But, Spike Lee reaches a lot higher than most filmmakers dare to go. And after one year, the story of Katrina is not yet over. As one survivor says about the Katrina Diaspora:

"With the evacuation scattering my family all over the United States," Montanna says quietly, "I felt like it was an ancient memory, as if we had been up on the auction block."

Families torn apart, still torn by pain.


HBO online has a resources page for this documentary with links where you can make still needed donations:

Network for Good
An extensive list of resources to help Hurricane Katrina victims rebuild.

Jazz Foundation of America
Helping New Orleans musicians in need.

Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
The nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities.

Family Pride Coalition
Tulane students working to restore New Orleans.

Red Cross

Salvation Army


EdHeath said...

One little point about one little issue: emergency assistance. As I understand it, FEMA handed out VISA cards with $2000 on them. Maybe that was too little, and I have no idea if they got the cards into the right hands, but in this case, you have to say they were actually trying to get help where it was needed in an efficient manner. Over the years there have been debates about the value to recipients of straight cash aid grants versus grants of specific materials. Most economists say that people are happiest with cash grants, with the ability to divide them up the way they want. If some people spent money on silly or less than worthy things, maybe they were just trying to ease the pain of the event. Now, I am not saying anything about the trailer fiasco, the snail’s pace of debris removal, FEMA’s otherwise slow response or anything else. I just think the VISA cards were actually a good idea. It was victims who spent them on things that people disapproved of, not FEMA. So complaints about the VISA cards are actually complaints about the spending habits of the poor …

Maria said...


I get what you're saying but I believe that the fraud that they are referring to was in the form of people getting cards who actually weren't even flood victims.

I know some jumped on the stories here and there of people buying $200 designer jeans or whatever set some pundits off, but those were primarily the folks trying desperately to find some political cover for Bush.