When the Levees Broke

Just finished watching When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee's documentary on Hurricane Katrina. I recommend it highly. I was surprised—and pleased—at how much Lee stayed out of the way and let the participants tell the story themselves. I think the documentary does a remarkable job capturing the scope of human suffering.

If I was to find fault, it's that Lee's documentary does not capture the scope of the physical devastation. You see the houses ripped off their foundations by the force of the waters. That doesn't capture the power of driving through the neighborhoods and seeing the destruction for miles on end. Or the awesome mountains of debris created in parks and medians as the city began to dig out. Or the eery, gray, lifeless moonscapes left behind immediately after the waters receded.

Here are three critically important things about the Katrina disaster that people may not realize:

This was an engineering disaster, not a natural disaster. At least, that's the case in New Orleans. The hurricane hit full force in Mississippi. What hit New Orleans was barely category one, and that was enough to breech the defective levee system. You cannot blame the current occupant of the White House for that. That's a failure of several decades of presidencies—and corrupt New Orleans politics.

Brownie was not the problem. Here is where you can blame the Bush administration. Michael Brown was a lousy administrator with bad political acumen, but he's not the one responsible for emasculating James Lee Witt's FEMA. According to Cooper and Block, Brown actually tried to do the right thing with FEMA. His bosses (Bush, Ridge, Chertoff) are the ones who destroyed our nation's ability to respond to natural disasters, by redirecting most resources not specifically earmarked for terror threats. They are the architects of our dysfunctional, imcompetent homeland security apparatus. Brown is an easy fall guy for the people really responsible for this tragedy.

The disaster continues. Spike Lee captured the situation six months out. Here we are a year later and it's still bad. My sister-in-law is still waiting for the insurance check to be released to pay for the tree that Katrina pushed through her roof. And she's one of the lucky ones.

You're doing a heck of a job, Bushie.