Legacies of Katrina

As I’m sure you’re all aware (if you manage to catch it in between the hours-long in-depth analysis of JonBenet Ramsey’s non-killer), today marks the one year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Katrina changed the face of America and it’s impact will reverberate for decades to come. Amidst the voluminous things that could be said about it in retrospect, I’d like to focus in on three things that I think are among Katrina’s biggest legacies. (I apologize for the lack of linky goodness; unfortunately I wasn’t blogging or using Del.icio.us at the time, and I’d never get this posted if I went hunting on Google for everything I mention here)

1. Day of the Blogosphere

Hurricane Katrina is best known for the massive failure of government that was the response to the disaster. The word “clusterfuck” comes to mind when I think about it. However, there was another massive failure that surrounded the disaster; that of the mainstream media.

It’s hard to believe given my attitude now, but a year ago I was pretty skeptical of the whole “blog thing”; then came Katrina. The power of the network was never more awesome than when the blogosphere covered Katrina last summer. They were the first to show that the breach of the levees had long been predicted. They organized a support and charities. While Fox News and CNN had journalists running around “saving” cats from trees because they couldn’t find the story, bloggers were posting iconic photos with cameraphones. The most poignant and important stories emerged not from the MSM, but rather the people who were caught in the middle of it, communicating with the outside world through cell phones and and donated laptops. In short, they bypassed the clueless media channels and thrust their story onto the net, where network effects quickly and efficiently processed the information and brought the most important stuff to the forefront. BoingBoing had better coverage than CNN.

Further: Craigslist became the de facto community resource for sharing information in those hectic days. Google played an important role by offering Katrina Satellite photos through Google Earth. The mainstream media? They were busy having their reporters stand in wind tunnels.

2. The Emperor With No Clothes

Some of us had been saying for upwards of four years prior that Bush was an incompetent fuckup; Katrina was the event that convinced the rest of the country of this.

The handling of the disaster was so inept with consequences so grand that no barrage of talking points (“state and local officials”) could salvage it. Bush fucked up so bad even he had to apologize for it. His approval rating tanked and hasn’t recovered since.

And oh, how monumental a fuckup it was. The inefficacy of FEMA four years after 9/11 showed just how empty his promises of “you’re safer” are. Bush gave us all the best soundbyte we could ask for with “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” – as it was being revealed that “Brownie” was woefully unqualified to head FEMA, and just how rampant cronyism is in Bush’s world. (And just to show he can’t learn from his mistakes: not four weeks later he tried to nominate Harriet Meiers to the Supreme Court). It gets even better: this was *as* he busted the vacation record for the Presidency, and refused to cut it two days short to deal with the disaster, resulting in a wonderful photo of Bush fiddling while New Orleans burned (and just to drill the point home, his mom did a fine Marie Antoinette impression). And of course, no Bush fiasco is complete without a bald faced lie: “No one could have predicted terrorists would fly planes into buildings the levees would breach”. Except such predictions had been made for years, and Bush was told two days before the Hurricane hit.

A perfect storm indeed.

3. Black people loot; white people find

Perhaps the greatest legacy of Katrina is this: it reminded America that racism and poverty still exist. Katrina put these issues front and center in the American psyche. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”.

I think most Americans were surprised to witness just how impoverished many New Orleans residents were. They couldn’t help but notice how it was black people and poor people who lost everything. Over the coming weeks there would be many accusations of racism on the part of government officials and the recovery effort. Some baseless… some not.

It’s an unpleasant truth most of us would rather forget. Katrina forced us to acknowledge it once again; and hopefully, as time progresses, continue to force us to deal with it.

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