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All Eyes On New Orleans 

A look at what the rest of the world is saying

Thursday, Sep 15 2005
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Though the New York Times wins first prize for outrage in its Katrina coverage (NYT columnist Maureen Dowd actually referred to resigned FEMA head Michael Brown as a “blithering idiot” while columnist Paul Krugman intoned, “At a fundamental level, I’d argue, our current leaders just aren’t serious about some of the essential functions of government”), the tone of the foreign press has been mostly stunned by how the underbelly of the American Dream was so brutally revealed in the storm, though there were also expressions of compassion coming from Thailand and China. The Agencee France Presse was particularly quick to announce that Fats Domino had been rescued, and Germany’s Der Spiegel obsessed on the scandal surrounding the Green Party’s environmental minister, Jürgen Tritten, who criticized U.S. policy on climate change while neglecting to express condolences for the hurricane’s victims. What follows are excerpts reported from beyond our borders. The Racial Levee “Against such a backdrop, it does not take much to tear the tissue-thin divide between order and anarchy. Katrina has ripped through it in New Orleans with the force of an atomic bomb. And in such moments, the hidden underclass of American life makes its voice heard in terrifying fashion . . . This is raw anger — anger seeking revenge for generations of poor social conditions, inadequate education and unaffordable health care; revenge for the endemic racism which still thrives in the States.” —The Daily Mail, London “And, as often, when misfortune strikes the U.S., the social inequalities within it are starkly exposed. Most of the 80 per cent of New Orleans residents who managed to evacuate before the hurricane were white and well off. Most of those who stayed and lost loved ones are predominantly black or Hispanic.” —The New Zealand Herald “How America now responds to their desperate plight will tell the wider world much about what Americans really value.” —The Herald, Glasgow “But before we get too piously smug about America, just imagine a flood crashing through the Thames barrier and drowning London and Essex. What would we see? Essentially the same thing, even if mayor Ken Livingstone did evacuation well. The middle classes would escape to friends and relatives. The poor who have no networks beyond other poor people would collect in camps. They would be as pitifully helpless and there would be millions of them too — even for those with basic [bank] accounts, banks never lend so much as a bus fare to those who most need it. Half of London’s children live under the poverty line. So don’t look across the Atlantic and preen over our European values, welfare state and beneficent government. We may do better, but the UN report puts us closer to the US model than to Europe’s.” —Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, London Our Government’s Response “The bloody anarchy that has gripped New Orleans these past five days is staggering and tragic. How could it have been allowed to happen? How is it possible that the city’s estimated 80,000 refugees have gone without food and water, some for as many as three days, how could some collapse and die while waiting for buses that never came? How could supposedly safe havens, such as the Superdome and the city’s convention center, be permitted to degrade into fetid, lawless hellholes?” —The National Post, Canada “The Army Corps of Engineers, like every other authority charged with preventing the flooding of New Orleans, has had its budget cut repeatedly in recent years. The Federal Emergency Management Administration has had its resources diverted toward the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror,’ and many of the National Guardsmen who might have been in place to intervene sooner have been diverted to Iraq.” —The Belfast Telegraph “Up to a third of all national guardsmen in Louisiana and Mississippi are currently serving in Iraq. They simply weren’t available to rescue the stranded or prevent widespread looting after Katrina struck.” —The Herald, Glasgow “Dudya: No Cash, No Aid, And No Sign of Bush for Five Days” —headline in The Daily Mirror, London “There’s only one word to describe the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — pathetic.” —The Toronto Sun, Canada “On the left, Katrina has become an opportunity to re-amplify a half decade’s worth of accusations against the Bush administration. The storm, it’s alleged, is the President’s fault for not signing Kyoto. (Never mind that hurricanes have become less frequent over the past 70 years.) The flood, it’s alleged next, is the President’s fault for cutting back flood control budgets (even though the levee that was breached had only just been rebuilt). The disorder, it’s alleged again, is the President’s fault for sending the Louisiana National Guard to Iraq (regardless of the fact that 8,000 of the state’s 11,700 Guardsmen — including four of the state’s five engineering battalions — remained ready at home) . . . Environmentalists who detest dams, canals and all other works of man may now rage at the Bush administration for failing to give the Army Corps of Engineers everything it asked for.” —The National Post, Canada “President Bush wound his holidays down to fly to California for a Republican Party fundraising event as Lake Pontchartrain poured into New Orleans. An absence of leadership has plagued U.S. rescue efforts since Katrina cut her deadly swathe across the Gulf of Mexico. Confusion and chaos are inevitable parts of any major search and rescue operation, but what we are witnessing, and what the hurricane’s victims are suffering, is so scandalous as to be grotesque. —The Irish Times “Why are thousands of light, medium and heavy helicopters parked on bases up and down the U.S. while people in New Orleans die? Why has the air force not created a forward airbase on the serviceable runways of the city’s airport? Why are there no military communications systems in place? Why are there no water purification units on the banks of Pontchartrain? Why, on Wednesday, could the Sun Herald, in Biloxi, Mississippi, report horrific stories of death at the city’s junior high school shelters while U.S. Air Force personnel directly across Irish Hill Road were playing basketball and performing calisthenics? Because their commander-in-chief, President Bush, had not ordered them into action.” —The Irish Times As the Russian Federation’s National Television Network was decrying the Bush Administration’s refusal to allow Moscow’s elite search and rescue team, as well as two helicopter-carrying transport planes, into New Orleans, it showed Americans on rooftops holding up signs reading, “Help.” Meanwhile, Russia’s TASS News Agency ran the following headline: “U.S. Thanks Russia for Offer of Help, Says It Can Handle Crisis.” Whitey Loots, Too “Holidaymakers Teresa Cherrie, 42, a nurse, and her partner, John Drysdale, 41, a lorry driver, from Renfrew in Scotland, were forced to join in the looting to find food in New Orleans. The couple were desperately awaiting rescue on the roof on an apartment block with 10 American refugees in the French quarter of Baton Rouge. They were forced to scavenge and steal food from supermarkets while trying to hide from the gangs that roam the streets of the lawless city.” —Scottish Press Association “Officials at the shelter ‘totally let us down,’ he told reporters at the [Houston] Astrodome. The floors were covered in dog and cat waste and there was nothing to eat or drink, he said, adding: ‘We were left to starve.’ Mr. Mackels said he and other men had to find boats on dry ground and loot grocery and convenience stores to get food and drink to the hundreds in the high school. ‘There were people passing out left and right. We had to loot. I had no choice,’ he said.” —The Irish Times “In one report, New Orleans radio station WWL claimed that looters were helping feed those huddled inside the Superdome. Earlier that same day, FEMA and the U.S. military suspended relief supplies to the giant concrete refugee camp when it was reported that a single shot was fired at one military helicopter. How is it that street gangs can achieve what trained emergency professionals and soldiers could not? —The National Post, Canada Kinder and Gentler Coverage “We have difficulty comprehending that the clusters of people, their clothing ragged, their bodies mud-streaked, waiting to board vehicles that will take them from their wrecked or submerged homes, are Americans. Many of these images could just as well be of the aftermath of a typhoon that lashed southern China, Taiwan or the Philippines . . . Even if our money may not be needed, at the least we should be offering moral support.” —South China Morning Post “The rest of the world that has benefited from American generosity should show solidarity with Americans who are now picking up the pieces. Regardless of what other peoples think of the U.S. government and its foreign policies, most of the world owes it to themselves to reciprocate goodwill to the American people.” —The Nation, Thailand

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