Sunday, May 27, 2007

When the Levees Broke -- The Enemy within

9/11 was terrifying. For the first time in decades, we were attacked on our own soil. But the assault came from outsiders. Even more frightening is to think there may be a malevolent group within the country that kills people by its own negligence. Prior to watching Spike Lee's masterpiece, I had naïvely thought that New Orleans was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Lee argues that the United States Army Corps of Engineers designed the levees so poorly that they could not withstand anything stronger than a category two hurricane.

Given the fact that the city is surrounded by water on all sides, it was inevitable that it would be hit by a storm much more powerful than category two, thus, the engineers-- who can't be sued -- bear an enormous amount of responsibility for the catastrophe that befell hundreds of thousands of people.

Worse was the downright embarrassing and disgraceful response of the Bush administration. It took George Bush 12 days to get down to New Orleans. Meanwhile, he was on vacation and making speeches about Iraq (hey, let's get our priorities straight!) while Dick Cheney was flyfishing and Condoleezza Rice was buying shoes. Spike Lee shows some old footage of Lyndon B. Johnson making a clumsy appearance in New Orleans following Hurricane Betsy -- old LBJ was out there in the dark with his flashlight and down-homey kind of way but at least he was there. People knew that he cared.

FEMA, as we all know, took five days to get to the city although somehow it only took our government two days to go across the world to help the tsunami victims. One can only conclude that it is deliberate disdain and racism or a complete lack of concern for people of lower incomes that resulted in such a horrifically slow and inadequate response to this tragedy.

Spike Lee, who I've always loved, tells the story of Katrina through the words of those who lived through it -- from rich to poor, black to white, the important to the "ordinary." Their tales moved me to tears and to an angry rage as the story unfolded from the beginning of the chaos to the cleanup -- or so-called -- and the bailouts of so many insurance companies who refused to pay up.

One thing that I would have appreciated in this HBO series was a few more facts. After watching for four hours, I still don't know exactly how many people were killed or injured. Also, there was a reference early on to the fact that the levees had been dynamited during Betsy and that some people suspected that the same may have happened during Katrina in order to flood out the homes of the poorest people to save the rich. That's a serious allegation and it deserved more time and attention in the film.

Otherwise, this DVD was fantastic. It was moving and irreverent -- a real eye-opener and must-see. Hope that it's resurrected before the next election!

Sigridmac, American living in Canada

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