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Friday, September 09, 2005

Kanye West Reveals The Agony That Watching Katrina News Causes


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Rap Artist Kayne West Opens His Heart About Katrina, the Media and Bush

This clip of Mike Myers and Producer/Rap Artist Kayne West is very disturbing. Telethon Clip

Not because Kayne West says at the end that "George Bush doesn't care about black people", which he cleary believes as a point of fact through the exhaustion and anxiety that appear to have come from watching the non-stop media coverage, and perhaps, trying to figure out what he can do to help;

Not because Mike Myers, who appears to be following the segment script appears to be left twisting in the wind on live television, as he watches sympathetically as a respected colleague appear to melt down on live television, watching as West says heartfelt and incredibly painful things, nearly helpless to try to soften West's remarks, perhaps wondering if it is right for him to try to do so considering the situation, as the incredible pain and despair that West projects washes over him and the telethon audience like a flood;

Nor because Kayne West reflects our own helplessness this past week and a half as we watched our own citizens suffer for days on end, many suffering, even dying for no reason other than governmental inaptitude, what appeared to be indifference, massive incompetence or perhaps endemic and systematic unconcern due to economic and/or racial bias;

No, what was most disturbing was the fear that in his very last statement, that Kayne West was in fact correct, that George Bush, the Republican Establishment, and those who knew about the vulnerability of New Orleans to this kind of Natural Disaster, cut funding for levee improvement, were disorganized in disaster planning, and were slow off the block in providing needed aide primarily because the victims of this disaster were black.

Let me be clear here. I am not referring to, nor was West I think to educated African Americans with advanced degrees, a measure of wealth, property that they owned, and who had the means to drive easily, perhaps even fly out of town.

West was referring to those families left behind, individuals, parents, orphans, poor black folk and those who had families. Those who lost everything, and those who had really only one thing to hold onto, the homes and property that they lived in, in many cases died in, and who were the most endangered victims of the New Orleans flooding.

Why? In part because of their own faith in the city and governmental institutions that had always protected them in the past. Many stayed behind because they had always done so in the past. Protected by the City of New Orleans, its marshland and delta, and the levee system that the Army Corps of Engineers knew would not survive a category 5 hurricane, because it was not designed to. As National Geographic reports, these levees were just not built for worst case events.

Behind the statements often heard on the news that "New Orleans is my home, where else can I go, I have nothing else.", behind that existential reality, is the dependence that has arisen from the lack of any other means of life, any other opportunity, any education system that worked well enough or encouraged them to explore the world and the opportunities within it, that allowed them to improve the very communities within which they lived themselves and the survival networks within it.

Behind these statements of loyalty to our place of birth is the message drummed into us instinctually and culturally sources such as "The Wizard of Oz" in which, at its climax Dorothy repeats over and over again - "There's no place like home".

This "Home is safe because its home" kind of thinking is not unique to the poor of New Orleans and so blaming them is as useless as blaming residents of Pompeii, Krakatoa, Three Mile Island, The Seattle Mud Plain below Mt. St. Helens, The California Fault System or pretty much anywhere along the ring of fire in the pacific.

Kayne validates the rights of these residents in any case. And as he speaks psuedorandomly but passionately, Kayne lightly raps upon a number of issues debated in the press about Katrina, without even appearing to rap, but rapping nonetheless, and in such a way so that Myers knows it but much of the white audience may not.

Even missing the Rap artist performance, the word, heart verse expressed is very different coming from a young black man who easily could have been mistakenly shot if in the wrong place at the wrong time last week in New Orleans than coming from some network or cable observer on the street with a news crew and producer.

Should we wonder at his grief? How many were shot for walking while black? Holding their belongings in a bag while black? Should we be surprised at his despair? Should we not, regardless of color feel some of his fear, frustration and helplessness? Would we be any safer? Any more effective on the streets of New Orleans at that time in those places?

Note my prayer at the end. How many of his friends are missing and unnacounted for? How many of their homes and livelihoods or gone? How hard must it be knowing how long it might be before everyone he cares about is accounted for? How high the stress that some may never be accounted for in this kind of disaster? It affects me. I went to school in the South. It affects people all over the country.

Yet, during his statement, Mr. West overwhelmed with feelings, still retained the equanimity to praise the efforts of the American National Red Cross, while angry and heartbroken about what had not been done, displaying the leadership and boldness to suggest that all examine every cent that they can give to this effort, and the courage to call to justice the person he feels most responsible for the depths of the poor treatment of people most like him in this greatest of American Tragedies in this Century, no less than the President of the United States, George W. Bush, and to do so on National Television. Not as a political pundit. Not as an electoral candidate. But as a man who feels the pain, who has the compassion and courage to let his own pain show to the nation, and to call what he believes as race-based failures in disaster management just that. In this Kayne West did what as an artist, since being awakened by the nearly fatal auto accident that launched his career has always done, he spoke from the heart, and America is listening.

Perhaps in this way he was more than just a commentator on the Tragedy of the City of New Orleans, but an Artist, doing his own rap, to his own beat, though given the circumstances, perhaps a beat we are not used to hearing, and one we do not normally associate with him. It was a slow beat, a disjointed wandering beat, just as the hungry, and tired, and thirsty, and heat suffering victims of the city struggled to find a home, so did his own joint struggle to find its way home to, ending on the note that is now sounding throughout his community, through the media, that it was Bush and it was race, that made the toll so severe.

Seen from this perspective, Myers comments and the scenery behind them can now be seen as a rap counterpoint, the moderated white news, complete with clips, vs the black experience in the eye of the storm. While I felt it was a genuine reaction, his natural instincts as an artists gave us a message which could have been hard to meld into a more sophisticated message, a more succinct portrayal of our cultural divide.

It is the distance in this cultural divide that must be bridged to avoid future such scenes of starvation and death among the American minority poor. All of which could have been avoided with preparation.

Hurricane Katrina Peels Away Republican Anti-Family Funding Priorities Through Long and Short Term Planning Failures

I feel a little dirty talking about the potential political implications of Katrina. But Hurricanes change things, particularly when things are handled this badly. Perhaps time will show that Mr. West's comments were based upon high stress and grave concern about missing or lost relatives and friends. But his comments reflect the feelings of many Americans and will not be soon forgotten.

At least Kayne has the resources that come with being a star producer and artist, who has the ear of the top performers in the rap and pop community including soon to be Mom Britney Spears whom he has a working relationship with and talk show host Oprah Winfrey whose show he appeared on today. Just a point, other than the video clip and 5 minutes of the Oprah interview, that is all I know about Kayne West, othere than I liked what he said and how he said it. The honesty, charisma and character that came through.

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Open Minded?

This is America, what should be the land and the free and the home of the brave for all Americans. Like other hurricanes before it, Katrina has swept away layers of trees and buildings and revealed some sights and images hidden but present for many, many years.

Katrina's was so powerful a storm that it ripped away not only roofs, trees, boats and anything else not chained down, but hidden patterns of racism and socioeconomic bias as well.

What is hard to understand, as a hurricane survivor myself, is why, once it was fairly evident that the storm was going to be a category 5 storm, that immediate measures were not taken to evacuate the city using every vehicle available, or, failing that, making sure that emergency supplies of food and water were mobilized outside the Hurricane impact zone (say within 200 miles of the Gulf Coast) with pre-arrangements for airlifting supplies into the region.

Every hurricane, level three and above, results in the loss of power and water. This usually means that refrigerated food spoils quickly, especially in the heat of late August. This means that for every hurricane, once it is known that it is heading for the Gulf and is likely to be at level 3 or better, water, food, ice and generators are going to be needed on a large scale, with the resources to get them past the fallen trees and debris.

This would have been true without the flooding of the City of New Orleans. The destruction of I-10 was completely predictable. It fared only a little better during Hurricane Frederick in '79 and that was a category 3 rather than 5 storm. Texas is on the Gulf Coast. How the President did not understand these basic needs and could not/did not ask about them in his daily briefings once the Katrina possibilities started to loom is beyond me. The costs for these mistakes could run well over a hundred Billion dollars. They will fall disproportionately on the poor, but in the case of energy costs, not just in New Orleans.

Yet some of these costs were avoidable. But the tenor of values of choices in budgeting made by this administration revealed an attitude unconcerned about environmental matters or dangers. An attitude in which families are on their own in a country when the deck is stacked against the American Working Family and for the international conglomerate and their lobbiests that may happen to do business here and have stockholders here, and donate campaign contributions to Republicans here, but want all legislation to work recklessly in their favor, not your or mine, and especially not the minority poor of America's cities, where as often as possible they are grouped together in the least favorable areas, say, below sea level, so that the rich need not notice that they exist, like the untouchables in India.

After All This Time George Bush Has Left Us Unready for A Serious Attack

Moreover, this storm has revealed an attitude in Republican spending and budgeting that is heartless and cruel favoring the needs of defense spending and big business over the needs of the individual family member and person. Where was the spending on emergency supplies for FEMA so that it had warehouses of supplies ready to be airlifted in case of a terrorist attack on a major city. I know after all those millions spent I certainly expected that they had done this simple thing, didn't you?

What if New Orleans had been hit by a dirty bomb instead of a flood? FEMA, the Bush administration, all our resources, are no better off than they were prior to 9/11, in fact, it can be argued that because of all the troops in Iraq, that our state of emergency preparedness may even be less than it was. How can this be so? Yet this appears to be the case.

Perhaps had it been a chemical weapons attack or a suitcase bomb or a large Anthrax attack, FEMA would have had an effective response plan. Perhaps disasters of Biblical Proportion are just beyond them. But from my perspective, this disaster is the miner's canary and it is dead, dead, dead. Sending the FEMA director back to Washington may not be enough. We may have to consider sending back both Bush and Cheney for their combined incompetence and lies over their entire span of office. A chicken little response? The waters of New Orleans run red with their mistakes.

The needs to rebuild the levee were known.

Not only were the budget improvements not approved but massive cuts were made instead.

Rather than protect citizens at home, billions were spent chasing phantoms abroad and now far more damage than any terrorist act, perhaps any act of war, except possibly the American Civil War, has been incurred. Far more was lost on the Gulf Coast than was spent in Iraq, and Americans as a whole feel horrified, sickened and cheated.

It will not be long before the question is asked: "Where else are we vulnerable, where else are we unprepared?"

New Orleans Ripe For This Disaster - But Better Levee and Plans Could Have Saved Many

It should be pointed out that New Orleans did have some natural disadvantages.

The flood, when it came, came unmercifully quickly.

The city, with its large population, had no large public transportation system to remove citizens from the flood zone.

When the City of Chicago faced its downtown flood in 1994 when a contractor pushed a pier into an old supply tunnel under the Chicago River flooding every basement downtown and the subway tunnels, making city planners anxious about the stability and safety of Chicago's Highrises, the entire downtown area was evacuated in less than two hours by CTA's Rapid Transit System, Metra Trains and almost 2000 buses flushed in and out of Downtown.

Then again, Chicago is the City that Works.

Under its current Mayor, Richard M. Daley, the City of Chicago has a much greater and much more diverse involvement of race and culture in city planning. It also has many, perhaps more racially and economically disenfranchised. However, they are not all concentrated in a Flood Zone.

But is the Real Culprit Casual Racism abetted By Our Texan President?

Yet, I think Kayne West's comments hit home because we are afraid at heart that they are true, that the Old South still reigns, and that our Texan President let it happen, especially with his Good Old Boys in charge at FEMA and across his administration. Ms. Rice may certainly be right about the lack of overt racism.

But I think looking at race is not in and of itself enough. Perhaps "povertyism" to bush a phrase, is as much true. Blame the poor person, shoot them if they steal, blame them for not being herded into a potential death trap downtown when they had stored up food, ice and water at home for a week. Ignore a whole region of the country because it is convenient to. Forget its strategic importance in terms of oil production and imports. Damn the environmental consequences for any disasters, or does it matter if Haliburton gets the clean-up contracts?

He Who Wears The Robes Of Leadership Bears Responsibility For The Crimes Upon His Watch

I think it is really too early to let assumptions of racism without evidence stand on their own, why go there when there is so much evidence of ordinary stupidity and incompetence with which to throw the rascals* out? (*In deference to younger and more sensitive readers rascals has been used in place of the more appropriate term bastards. -ed note.)

And it is increasingly clear that the handling the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or The New Orleans Disaster of Aught '05 will weigh heavily on image of the Bush Administration. It increasingly possible that how students of history will remember this administration is:

Bush Vacation - 9/11
Bush Lies - Iraq War
Bush Tax Rebate - Levee Funding Cuts - The Flooding of New Orleans - Over 1,000 dead
'06 - '08 Congressional White House Losses - The Marginalization of the Republican Party in America

I admit that last one is a little less likely. But when people die in these kinds of numbers, civilians all, ordinary Americans get really, really mad. Mad enough to vote. Mad enough to cross party lines.

All Politics is Local - TV Put The Gulf Coast in Our Backyards

This is no blue dress. This is no Clintonesque prevarication.

President Bush appointed a FEMA director who appears to have not been vetted properly for his position because he was a friend, who appears to have had no real disaster management experience, who appears not to have had the first idea of what to do in this situation, nor the staff who did. Hundreds if not thousands died. This is not Whitewater. This is Redwater. The color of blood.

What Needs to Be Done - Make New Orleans Safe and Alive Again

About the best we can hope for out of this experience is that the levee improvements that are long overdue go in and that ways are found to bring the city back to life for those that wish to return, with efforts made to heal those lives ruined in the disaster. That work to fix the aquaculture that protects the shrinking marshland that have protected New Orleans for centuries but are now unhealthy also need to be funded so that they can grow again and improve the city's natural protection against storms, now eroded by the pipeline system that cuts into the marshes and swampland south of the city (see National Geographic Video).

Eliminate the Pattern of Blunders that Made the Bungling Possible and Make Effective and Comprehensive Disaster Response Plans for the Nation

While there is hope that across the Gulf Coast the death toll is less than feared, the death toll from administrative blunders is far too high to be accepted. It, when tallied, will be a national point of shame.

If this was Japan, Mr. Bush and his Cabinet would have all resigned in disgrace from the joint loss of face. Another generation ago they would be discussing their failures with their ancestors. Fortunately, we have progressed beyond such madness. The latter, I mean. The former is looking pretty good right now.

Fiyo on the Bayo - The City of New Orleans Could Rise Again

One last point. The Phoenix Factor.

At some point, someone in the Bush Administration will point out the good news that jobs are up in the region and in the country. We cannot and should not let them take one iota of credit for job growth from this disaster for their will be some job growth as the massive cleanup, rebuilding, and restoration begins to take place, as pipelines are repaired, as those homes and businesses that can be rebuilt are, as oil rigs are repaired and moved back into place, or rebuilt, as the reconstruction of I-10 over Lake Pontchartrain, and thousands of other highway, road and infrastructure projects begin. We cannot let them take credit for it, not one little bit. Especially not those parts that were caused by their own sloth in not funding levee improvements.

Like the Chicago Fire of 1870, history may yet find that the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in the long run, by drawing architects and planners, builders and government dollars, becomes a bonanza for the City of New Orleans, helping it to blend the passion of the Old French Quarter with the New Or-le-ans of the future.

Another Category 5 Storm Could Happen Again At Any Time - Federal Funding for Levy Improvements Should Be Passed BEFORE Rebuilding Begins

But before too much money is spent, there is a levee to fix and improve. Mr. Bush, Congress, assign the funds now while the iron is hot, while you have maximum political support and a chance of salvaging something out of the 2006 congressional elections. You may yet pull some irons out of the fiyo. (Cf: The Neville Brothers.)

I know, you might think a storm might now make much of a difference. But there is a former Mayor in Chicago you might want to talk to, named Michael J. Bilandic. He was a shoe-in for re-election for mayor of Chicago until he had a little trouble with snow prior to the Spring Primaries..

Here's the clip again, in case you missed it. Just right-click to see in in a new tab or window.

Kayne West Speaks Out About The Katrina Tragedy as Mike Myers Looks On

Prayers Welcome For All Missing Friends

I have a lot of friends still unaccounted for in the area. Please keep them and their families in your prayers. I will do the same for you. Fortunately, as far as I know, all my near relatives are accounted for.

Most New Orleans friends are probably fine except for houses and jobs destroyed by the storm, but I will be unable to know for sure for quite some time.


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