On the windswept plaza in front of the Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue, a woman was asking a small crowd to dig deep into their pockets and give whatever they possibly could for New Orleans charity.
The group she was speaking for was named B.I.G., which stood for Blacks in Government. Here's a bit of their history from their website:
When coupled with the fact that no single civil rights organization has as its sole objective the preservation and enhancement of Black civil servants, it became apparent that Black civil servants had to unite and protect themselves. To some, this meant jeopardizing their careers. To others, it meant duplicating some of the efforts of other organizations. To still others, it meant very little, they felt (as some Blacks do not) that it would be a wasted effort.
Nonetheless, Blacks In Government®, was organized in 1975 and incorporated as a non-profit organization under the District of Columbia jurisdiction in 1976. BIG has been a national response to the need for African Americans in public service to organize around issues of mutual concern and use their collective strength to confront workplace and community issues. BIG's goals are to promote EQUITY in all aspects of American life, EXCELLENCE in public service, and OPPORTUNITY for all Americans.
The Civic Center chapter of B.I.G. was throwing a hot dog fundraiser in the plaza to raise money...
...and the crowd got even smaller as the wind tore through the plaza...
...and the rock trio started to play.
Watching the federal reaction to the disaster in New Orleans, what I kept thinking about was the poor Iraqis who have been putting up with the Occupation run by many of the same villainous fools who have done such a disastrous job in the Gulf.
The outrageous violence, the lack of empathy for other human beings, the extraordinary greed and graft fueling everything, and above all the sheer stupid incompetence of the Occupation finally registered after watching a week's worth of the Katrina aftermath.
I'm also not the only one with this particular thought running through their head. Tom Englehardt, at his website, writes a very elaborate essay about what the Iraq and New Orleans disasters have in common that is pretty brilliant. Click here to read the whole essay.
Here's an excerpt:
Think of our last two years in Iraq, which has left the world's most powerful military running on baling wire and duct tape, as a kind of coming attractions for Katrina. In fact, so many bizarre connections or parallels are suggested by the Bush administration's war in Iraq as to stagger the imagination. Here are just six of the parallels that immediately came to my mind:
1. Revelations of unexpected superpower helplessness: A single catastrophic war against a modest-sized, not particularly dramatically armed minority insurgency in one oil land has brought the planet's mightiest military to a complete, grinding, disastrous halt and sent its wheels flying off in all directions. A single not-exactly-unexpected hurricane leveling a major American city and the coastlines of two states, has brought the emergency infrastructure of the world's mightiest power to a complete, grinding, disastrous halt and sent its wheels flying off in all directions.
2. Planning ignored: It's now notorious that the State Department did copious planning for a post-invasion, occupied Iraq, all of which was ignored by the Pentagon and Bush administration neocons when the country was taken. In New Orleans, it's already practically notorious that endless planning, disaster war-gaming, and the like were done for how to deal with a future "Atlantis scenario," none of which was attended to as Katrina bore down on the southeastern coast.
3. Lack of Boots on the ground: It's no less notorious that, from the moment before the invasion of Iraq when General Eric Shinseki told a congressional committee that "several hundred thousand troops" would minimally be needed to successfully occupy Iraq and was more or less laughed out of Washington, Donald Rumsfeld's new, lean, mean military has desperately lacked boots on the ground (hence those Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards off in Iraq). Significant numbers of National Guard only made it to New Orleans on the fifth and sixth days after Katrina struck and regular military boots-on-the-ground have been few and far between. No Pentagon help was pre-positioned for Katrina and, typically enough, the Navy hospital ship Comfort, scheduled to help, had not left Baltimore harbor by Friday morning for its many day voyage to the Gulf.
4. Looting: The inability (or unwillingness) to deploy occupying American troops to stem a wave of looting that left the complete administrative, security, and even cultural infrastructure of Baghdad destroyed is now nearly legendary, as is Donald Rumsfeld's response to the looting at the time. ("Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here." To which he added, on the issue of the wholesale looting of Baghdad, "Stuff happens.") In New Orleans, the President never declared martial law while, for days, gangs of armed looters along with desperate individuals abandoned and in need of food and supplies of all kinds, roamed the city uncontested as buildings began to burn.
What, facing this crisis, did the Bush administration actually do? The two early, symbolic actions it took were typical. Neither would have a significant effect on the immediate situation at hand, but both forwarded long-term administration agendas that had little to do with Katrina or the crisis in the southeastern United States: First, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was relaxing pollution standards on gasoline blends in order to counteract the energy crisis Katrina had immediately put on the table. This was, of course, but a small further step in the gutting of general environmental, clean air and pollution laws that strike hard at another kind of safety net -- the one protecting our planet. And second, its officials began to organize a major operation out of Northcom, Joint Task Force Katrina, to act as the military's on-scene command in "support" of an enfeebled FEMA. The U.S. Northern Command was set up by the Bush administration in 2002 and ever since has been prepared to take on ever larger, previously civilian tasks on our home continent. (As the Northcom site quotes the President as saying, "There is an overriding and urgent mission here in America today, and that's to protect our homeland. We have been called into action, and we've got to act.")
I don't know if the half-mast flag was for the old, racist Rehnquist of the Supreme Court, the New Orleans dead, or just as a whim, but I'd like to dedicate it, as the sign says, "To All Lives Lost In Iraq."