Monday, September 05, 2005


Gimme Shelter
By Stephen Elliott

Sunday 04 September 2005

Trying to force authorities to open an Air Force base as a shelter, Jesse Jackson and other black leaders picked up 150 evacuees at the squalid New Orleans Airport and headed into the night.
Alexandria, La. - The New Orleans airport sits on the north side of the city, removed from the bulk of the disaster that struck nearly a week ago when Hurricane Katrina battered the buildings, smashing through the levees and flooding the town. The highway leading into the airport is deserted, open only to official vehicles. The giant concrete overpasses are surreal empty loops though nothing compared to the images inside the city itself.

I arrive at the airport Saturday afternoon with a convoy of three air-conditioned buses, two SUVs, and a state police escort. I'm with U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, her husband, Ambassador Sydney Williams, chair of the Louisiana Black Caucus Cedric Richmond, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and State Sen. Cleo Fields. Cleo Fields has a plan to bring people to England Air Force Base, a decommissioned base in Alexandria, La., four hours northwest of New Orleans. The idea is to show up with hundreds of relief victims and force the federal government to open the empty buildings. They did not receive permission from anyone to take the evacuees there. On Saturday a U.S. Army spokesman said bases, including England, were being considering as shelters.

When we left the Office of Emergency Management in Baton Rouge Sen. Fields responded to harsh questioning from a television crew. The reporter wanted to know if they had working sanitation facilities at the base, healthcare.

"These people are living beneath a highway," he responded incredulously. "It's been six days. Do they have healthcare now? Do they have beds now? People are dying, not from the storm. People are dying because they are being left to die." The reporter wasn't impressed. She wanted to know what would happen if they couldn't get in the base. "Worst case scenario they'll sleep on the buses. It'll be the best night they've had in a week."

On the way to the airport we see six buses full of people pulled over at the side of the road. We pass about 150 buses sitting empty on the opposite side of the highway. We see many other buses, also empty, driving in both directions. "You'd think they were full if you were taking pictures from a helicopter," a cameraman says. "All those empty buses moving around."

Around the airport the neighborhood is mostly empty, the stores closed. Many buildings were heavily damaged by the storm but not affected by the water that has submerged most of New Orleans.

Approaching the airport there are large groups of people sitting on the lawns in front. The airport looks like something out of a science fiction novel. Thousands of people are waiting outside the terminals next to an enormous pile of refuse. A large force of guardsman and police keep the peace. They patrol with automatic rifles at their waists, watch wearily from the roofs of sand-colored military transports. It's ninety degrees and the air reeks.

The people outside of the airport mostly arrived in the morning. Shuttled in from the Convention Center, the Superdome, and the highways - the Causeway over Lake Pontchartrain and the I-10. Thousands of victims were waiting in the three spots. Less than a day ago there were reports of four thousand people who were living beneath the highway, in the shade of the overpass. Most of these people have been stranded since Sunday in sub-human conditions. But the conditions now are no better. There is trash everywhere and people stand nervously in line, afraid to lose their place, hoping to get inside the airport where there is at least air-conditioning. Nobody has showered in a week.

"We were at the convention center five days," Charlotte Bradley tells me. "There was feces everywhere. Young girls were being raped. One night the lights went out. People were dying. People died in wheelchairs and they just put a sheet over them." With Charlotte is her blind sister and autistic son.

Also with Charlotte is her friend David Tousant Sr., whose son is also autistic. "First we were on the bridge," he says. "I saw the waters rising and bodies appearing from the water. We were there two days when they came and got us and took us to the convention center. Then this morning they brought us here."

Thousands more people are inside the airport. There's a giant triage facility, like a big sloppy hospital. Seriously wounded and sick individuals lie on rows of dark green stretchers on the floor, some of them strapped into their stretchers. An old man sits on one stretcher in the middle of the floor, away from the others, a yellow band tied around his wrist. He's not wearing shoes and his pants are rolled over his knees. A doctor kneels next to him, asks him if he knows where he is.

A line of elderly women in wheelchairs sit nearby, their only possessions strapped in small bags to the chair's handles. Each stares patiently ahead.

In the other part of the airport people are waiting in lines to be flown out or for buses to take them away. Nobody knows where they are being taken to or when. Time has nearly ceased to matter. Some people have bags; many others have nothing. Some just wander aimlessly. Families sit in corners, tribes that have formed since the disaster. A man in a blue shirt lies on a cardboard box next to the closed doors of the Body Shop, with its absurd signs behind the glass - blemish cream, two for $10.

The people inside the airport are the lucky ones. They have air-conditioning and bathrooms. They don't want to go outside where the others are. They might not be allowed back in.

We fill the three buses quickly with the people waiting outside. Priority is given to women and children and elderly people as well as families. We take 150 people. Nobody asks where the buses are headed. Nobody cares. And I begin to worry. Permission has not been given to transport these people to the air force base. I worry that these victims are being used as fodder for a political agenda. I wonder where they would have been taken if the Black Caucus had not shown up with their own buses. Somewhere better? But then I think at what point do you just go? I wouldn't wish that airport on anyone. I console myself with Senator Fields' comments earlier: Even if these people sleep on the buses it will be better than their last six nights.

The bus I'm on is dark and I keep my misgivings to myself as we travel through Louisiana late at night. There's a DVD playing on the small screens. Someone says they had forgotten what a television looked like. The movie is Rain Man. When that's done the driver puts in "Bad Company," starring Christopher Rock and Anthony Hopkins. It's not a very good movie.

A man named Charlie Armstrong and his family are sitting behind me. Charlie spent twenty years in the Army, went overseas six times, served in the first Gulf War where he was based six months in Saudi Arabia. "My best friend died over there," he says. "I didn't re-enlist after that. I missed out on Afghanistan." Instead he went to work with his father and brother, doing construction.

Charlie and his family were stuck in a house through the storm. "The first floor was underwater," he says. "The roof was mostly gone. We were on the second floor getting rained on. They were dropping us food and water through the roof. The storm came right through that roof. I sure am glad to be out of there."

The senator, Jesse Jackson, and the congresswoman are all riding in a car ahead of the buses. I don't know if they received word that they would not be able to use the air force base, or if they decided to change plans because of the lateness of the hour, but we go to a shelter in Alexandria instead.

When we arrive, police surround the buses and refuse to let anyone off.

"They're treating us like prisoners," Charlie's aunt says.

"You will absolutely not get off this bus," an officer says. When Jesse Jackson gets out of the front car he's immediately accosted by a shelter resident.

"You can't bring those types of people here," the man shouts. "Those are rapists and looters."

"Now hold on," Jesse says.

"Get the hell out of here," the man says. The police guard the buses but make no move to stop the man, who seems like he might attack the Reverend. "It's not a race thing," the man continues. "My wife is half-black." He points to a pregnant woman standing nearby. "We don't want your kind. This is a good place."

The people on the bus are not allowed off. Apparently the shelter is 85 percent full and has only 20 open beds.

Fields says that someone called ahead to the shelter and was told it was all right to go there. But the leader of the Red Cross at the shelter vehemently denies that anyone called her. Jesse Jackson grumbles that they were set up.

People at the first shelter tell them that there is another shelter with space nearby. The convoy leaves the first shelter, driving five minutes across town.

It's past midnight now. At the second shelter things go much better. We're greeted by Police Chief Jay Barber, a kind man with a strong resemblance to Terry Bradshaw. Whoever the officers were at the first shelter apparently didn't work for Barber. Barber's men wear blue. The officers at the first shelter wore green. "I've got room for 150," he says, about the number of people on the buses. The shelter is clean and well lit. There are large televisions, food, air-conditioning, cots, and showers, a separate play area for the children. The people are taken in small groups. Each is disinfected for sanitary reasons. Bags are searched for weapons. "We had an incident a few days ago," Barber says.

I ask the Reverend Jackson what happened at the first shelter on the other side of town. "When people act like children," he says. "You have to act like an adult."

"We've been waiting for folks for two days," Barber tells me. "We've been expecting people. I've been taking walk-ins."

I can't believe what he's saying. These people were lying in shit two days ago. We passed hundreds of empty buses on the way to the airport. How could a well-staffed, clean, secure, working shelter with 150 open beds in Louisiana sit half full for two days while people are being turned away at the Astrodome in Houston and bussed to Utah?

Leanne Murphy, the CEO of the Central Louisiana chapter of the Red Cross is on hand. "We're going to do everything we can for these people," she tells me. "We're so glad they're here."

"What if 300 more show up?" I ask her.

"We're going to find a place for them," she says.

The people at the shelter are genuinely decent, particularly Police Chief Barber. It makes it hard to understand what happened at the first shelter. A woman getting off the bus wraps herself around Jesse Jackson. She can't stop crying. "Thank you so much," she says, burying her face in the Reverend's shoulder. "I've been in the Superdome since Sunday. You have no idea what it was like. Nobody wanted to help us." I wonder if it's relevant to point out that she is white. Most of the people on the buses aren't.

With operations well underway at the shelter I leave with the Reverend and the politicians for nearby England Air Force Base. It's nearly one in the morning and I've been sleeping the last three days in my rental car, living off potato chips, peanuts, and candy bars, but I'm not particularly tired. The people on those buses were so happy to get there.

We're greeted at the base by Bridgette Brown, vice chairman of the Airport Board. She tells us, "Today the board voted unanimously to accept people from New Orleans." She thinks it will cost $1.6 million to the community. I wonder where the federal government is in all of this. I also wonder whether the board would have moved to open the facility if it had not been for the Black Caucus's intervention.

Brown takes us on a tour of the facilities. There are four buildings with 480 double rooms capable of medium-term housing for 960 residents. The electricity and water work. The buildings clearly haven't been used for a while and need a cleaning but don't seem terrible. Compared to the airport they don't even need a cleaning.

"We should have this place ready in two days," she says. "We could have had it ready earlier but not everybody was in agreement.

"How many acres do you have here?" Senator Fields asks.

"Three thousand."

"That's a lot of tents," he replies.

Reverend Jackson gives me his take on the situation. "We used to have a war on poverty," he says. "We need that here. Most of these shelters are temporary but it's going to be a long time until people can return home. We need housing that's appropriate, longer term like these unused military bases."

"You use these buses to take people to Utah you're taking that bus out of commission," Senator Fields tells me. But lack of buses is not the problem. There are unused buses - I saw 150 of them on the road - and unused buildings. There are people living in conditions that would be unacceptable in the Third World.

Jesse Jackson shows me a letter from Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, offering planeloads of aid, soldiers and firefighters, and thousands of barrels of petroleum. "We turned him down," he says.

At five in the morning we arrive back in Baton Rouge. I shake hands with Senator Fields and hug Congresswoman Maxine Waters. I drive off with Ken Hooks, a lawyer and a friend of the Senator. There are no hotel rooms available in Baton Rouge. A policeman in front of the Marriot tells us there's no hotel rooms for 90 miles in any direction. Ken lets me into his office east of the city, gives me a pillow, and I fall asleep on the rug.


Stephen Elliott is the author of the novel A Life Without Consequences.


September 4, 2005
In Manhattan, Poor Make 2¢ for Each Dollar to the Rich
Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue is only about 60 blocks from the Wagner Houses in East Harlem, but they might as well be light years apart. They epitomize the highest- and lowest-earning census tracts in Manhattan, where the disparity between rich and poor is now greater than in any other county in the country.

That finding, in an analysis conducted for The New York Times, dovetails with other new regional economic research, which identifies the Bronx as the poorest urban county in the country and suggests that the middle class in New York State is being depleted.

The top fifth of earners in Manhattan now make 52 times what the lowest fifth make - $365,826 compared with $7,047 - which is roughly comparable to the income disparity in Namibia, according to the Times analysis of 2000 census data. Put another way, for every dollar made by households in the top fifth of Manhattan earners, households in the bottom fifth made about 2 cents.

That represents a substantial widening of the income gap from previous years. In 1980, the top fifth of earners made 21 times what the bottom fifth made in Manhattan, which ranked 17th among the nation's counties in income disparity.

By 1990, Manhattan ranked second behind Kalawao County, Hawaii, a former leper colony with which it had little in common except for that signature grove of palm trees at the World Financial Center. The rich in Manhattan made 32 times the average of the poor then, or $174,486 versus $5,435.

The analysis was conducted for The Times by Dr. Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College of the City University of New York.

The growing disparity in Manhattan helped drive New York from 11th among cities with the biggest income disparities in 1980 to fifth in 1990 and fourth in 2000, behind Atlanta; Berkeley, Calif.; and Washington, according to the analysis. "The gains are all going to the top," Dr. Beveridge said. "It's a massive class disparity."

Last week, the Census Bureau reported that even as the economy grew around the nation, incomes stagnated and poverty rates rose. The Bronx, with a poverty rate of 30.6 percent, was outranked only by three border counties in Texas where living costs are lower.

Swollen, in part, by the earnings of commuters who work in New York City, median household income among the states was highest in New Jersey ($61,359) and Connecticut ($60,528). It was $47,349 in New York State, also above the national median.

A separate analysis, being released this weekend by the Fiscal Policy Institute in Albany, warns that the middle class is being depleted while the rich are getting richer and the poor are growing in number and barely getting by - more so in New York State and particularly upstate.

The loss of good-paying jobs, especially in manufacturing, "has meant that the 'hollowing out' of the middle of the income distribution continued at a rapid pace," the institute, a union-backed research group, concluded. It said the number of families earning between $35,000 and $150,000 declined by 50,000 from 2000 to 2003 while the number that earned above $150,000 and below $35,000 increased.

Dr. Mark Levitan, senior policy analyst for the Community Service Society, a liberal research and advocacy group, said he did not believe the city's economy was "uniquely weak," but said an increase in the poverty rate from 19 percent to 20.3 percent, as measured by the census's new American Community Survey, "is fundamentally a story about stagnant wages."

Edward Wolff, a New York University economist, attributed the growing disparity to ballooning Wall Street incomes and declining wages for lower skilled workers. "Though these forces are at work across the country," he said, "the heavy preponderance of corporate headquarters, the financial sector and the legal sector in New York City has made the increase in the ratio of income between the top and bottom quintile more extreme than in other parts of the country."

Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, said the income gap, which in Manhattan has historically been large, can endure indefinitely.

"The elites, the top sliver of the income scale, can drive consumption and investment forward while the bottom half slogs along," he said. "If inequality had embedded within it its own seeds of destruction, it would implode sooner than later. But that doesn't appear to be the case. Many who have fallen behind have a skewed notion of their prospects for upward mobility."

Manhattan, he said, is "an amplified microcosm" of conditions elsewhere in the country.

The income gap in Manhattan was far wider than in any other county. In tiny Clay County, Georgia, which has only 1,355 households and ranked second, the rich, on average, made about 38 times what the poor made.

Compared with the poorest Manhattanites, those in the top fifth are disproportionately male, non-Hispanic white and married. Roughly equal proportions among rich and poor are immigrants, are employed by private profit-making companies and work in sales.

The lowest-income census tract in the city is a triangular patch of East Harlem east of First Avenue and north of East 119th Street, where, despite a hint of gentrification in a renovated brownstone or two, the neighborhood is dominated by the mammoth though generally well-tended public housing project called the Wagner Houses. The median household income there is $9,320, most of the residents are black or Hispanic and do not have high school degrees, 56 percent live below the poverty level and about one in 10 are foreign born.

Darryl Powell, a 43-year-old automobile mechanic, said that most were struggling just to get by. "They're trying to keep a roof over their head," he said. "People are trying to hold onto what they've got."

Sheila Estep said she was facing eviction because she was working as a full-time mother raising three sons rather than returning to her earlier jobs as an electrician, plumber and cosmetologist. "If I fail at my job, they'll fail at theirs," she said.

Sharon Hammond, who sells cosmetics, said she and other tenants wished their neighborhood were better and that she had a working stove instead of a temporary hotplate in her apartment, but added: "Everybody can't be rich."

Manhattan's highest-income census tract is a six-square-block rectangle bounded by Fifth and Park Avenues and East 56th and 59th Streets. The median household income in this mostly commercial section of East Midtown is $188,697 (average family income is $875,267); none of the residents identified themselves as black; nearly one-third have advanced degrees and more than one in three are foreign born. Even there, though, the poverty rate is 16 percent.

"The income gap, while supposedly increasing, seems to be a natural phenomenon," said the developer Donald J. Trump, who lives in Trump Tower. "Times have been good, but times have been good for many people and many classes of people. I think there is a very large middle class - but not in this section, by the way."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

How Oil Wins, Every TIME

Pumping Us Dry
By James Ridgeway
The Village Voice

Friday 02 September 2005

Katrina tragedy is an absolutely perfect storm for oil companies.
The very first thing George W. Bush did in response to Hurricane Katrina was to offer a helping hand - not to the people stranded on rooftops in New Orleans, but to his friends in the oil industry. These were the same people who gave him $52 million in his last campaign. The president released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve so the oil companies would have enough fuel to make gas and keep the country going. But the companies don't need this oil. They're already swimming in it.

Pouring more oil into the marketplace didn't reduce gasoline prices, which kept on going up, hitting $4 a gallon in some places.

While crude oil production doubtless was curtailed by the storm, the companies face a surplus, not a shortage, of crude oil. So why dump more on the market?

"Despite growing inventories, U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) increased by nearly 5 million barrels over the past 3 weeks," wrote the federal Energy Information Administration. Continuing in the clipped industry jargon, the agency added, "While this may not appear to be a substantial build, it comes at a time when crude oil inventories typically decline, as refiners use more crude to make gasoline needed for current demand and heating oil as they stock up for the winter."

Thus, any crude oil inventory increase during the month of August, much less one of five million barrels over a three-week period, might lead one to expect prices to drop. Yet the price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil has risen by $5 per barrel! If prices don't fall under these conditions, what will make them fall?

All over the world this summer, oilmen raced to dump surplus into the U.S. market, where the rigged prices made them a killing. Oil traders in China, the second biggest world market next to the U.S., were shoving oil into the high-priced U.S. market to make more money. (The U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world market; China 7 percent.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Ed Wallace wrote last week that "there's actually weakening demand in Asia over the past two months, so oil is being diverted to the U.S., where it'll bring higher profits." He quoted Reuters as noting that "Chinese oil trader Unipec resold at least 3 million barrels of August-arriving crude due to reduced refinery demand and was offering more, traders said last week." Mary Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for Valero in San Antonio, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying, "There is no reason for crude oil to be at $65 a barrel other than hype in the market."

To be sure, some oil companies face shortages because of the storm, but the release of oil from the strategic reserve may not help them much. "The Capline, a major crude oil pipeline that feeds many Midwest refineries with crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico, is currently shut down due to lack of electricity at many of its pumping stations," the EIA reported Wednesday. "As a result, one refinery in the Midwest has already reported that it has reduced its production due to a loss in crude oil supply. With the recent Government decision that crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) will be made available to those affected by the hurricane, there may be some relief for refiners that have reduced their production due to loss of crude supply," the government service dryly continues. "However, they will need to find a way to get the crude oil from the SPR to their refineries."

What is going on here? The story goes like this: Refineries are increasing their stocks of crude, yet not increasing production of gasoline. This may help explain the high prices. It is an odd situation, since usually, in the summer, refineries are operating full tilt to lay in supplies of gasoline and home heating oil.

The slowing of gasoline production might be due to some unrecognized problems within the refineries. But the industry says it's because of market conditions, with officials noting that while today's crude prices are over $70, in 1999 crude oil was selling at around $12 a barrel. "Refineries lost a lot of money. In fact they lost money for most of the 1990s," Jeff Morris, president of Alon USA, owner of the Big Spring Refinery, told The Wall Street Journal last week. "People chose not to spend on refineries. So what's affecting us now is that we're behind the investment curve and it will take us five to 10 years to catch up."

If the companies can't increase their refined products, they could end up turning not to the petroleum reserve but to the European Union. While the U.S. keeps a supply of crude oil in its strategic reserve, the Europeans maintain a stock of gasoline as well as crude. There has been speculation that in a really tight situation, the EU might be called on to export some of that supply to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the high gas prices are adding to the profits of the big companies. Says the watchdog group Public Citizen: "Since George Bush became president in 2001, the top five oil companies [selling gas] in the United States have recorded profits of $254 billion: ExxonMobil: $89 billion, Shell: $60.7 billion, BP: $53 billion, ChevronTexaco: $31 billion, ConocoPhillips: $20 billion." The group adds: "As Americans shell out more dollars at the pump, the profit margin by U.S. oil refiners has shot up 79% from 1999 (the year Exxon and Mobil merged) to 2004."

Bush refuses to increase the energy efficiency standards for motor vehicles, which use 70 percent of total oil production, and he recently signed the energy bill that hands out billions in new subsidies to the industry. Even he seems to recognize what a shuck this is: In April, with prices moving ever higher and the Congress debating the energy bill, Bush said, "With $55 oil, we don't need incentives to oil and gas companies."

But this summer, Congress, with the president's enthusiastic support, adopted a series of new subsidies for the oil and gas industry. "Officially, the energy bill's giveaways are supposed to cost $14.6 billion over the next 10 years, offset in part by $3.1 billion in higher gasoline taxes on consumers," says Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. "But that doesn't include the bill's $70 billion in authorized but unfunded subsidies, for which cash will have to be appropriated later."

Now they get another handout in the form of the strategic oil reserve. This is a complicated setup whereby rather than paying the federal government (i.e., the general public) for the right to drill oil on public lands, the industry puts some of this oil into the reserve. When times get bad, it then extracts some of the 750 million barrels stored in salt domes under the Texas and Louisiana coasts - with the promise to return it later on. It can therefore get cost-free oil, turn it into gasoline and sell it at high prices, hoping to buy back crude oil later on at lower prices and return it to the reserve.

In addition, the petroleum reserve will buy oil to fill its reservoirs on the market to jack up crude prices. So the industry makes a killing both ways. The public is left shelling out $4 a gallon at the pump.


Bush's Implicit Answer to Cindy Sheehan's Question
By Norman Solomon
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 05 September 2005

President Bush has evaded Cindy Sheehan's question, "What was the noble cause that my son died for?" But he provided a partial answer on the day that the New Orleans levees gave way.

The media coverage was scant and fleeting - but we should not allow the nation's Orwellian memory hole to swallow up a revealing statement in Bush's speech at a naval air station near San Diego.

In the August 30 speech, moments after condemning "a brutal campaign of terror in Iraq," the president said: "If Zarqawi and bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks. They'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions." In other words, the US war effort in Iraq must continue because control of Iraqi oil is at stake.

Would US troops be in Iraq if that country didn't have a drop of oil under its sand? Most politicians dodge that kind of question. And for years, the US news media - with few exceptions - have elided the oily obvious. Such denials go back a long way.


On August 15, 1990 - two weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait - President George H.W. Bush expressed great concern about oil as the Pentagon moved to deploy troops and weaponry to the Persian Gulf. Of course the confrontation was about "our own national security interests" along with ensuring "peace and stability," but there was something more.

"We are also talking about maintaining access to energy resources that are key - not just to the functioning of this country, but to the entire world," the president said. "Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world would all suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein," he declared.

But by autumn the official story had shifted. Confronted by protesters while speaking at a fundraiser in Des Moines, the president had this rejoinder: "You know, some people never get the word. The fight isn't about oil. The fight is about naked aggression that will not stand." Addressing a Republican crowd in Vermont a week later, the first President Bush flatly said that "it isn't oil that we're concerned about. It is aggression. And this aggression is not going to stand."

Papering over corporate interests with humanitarian ones is standard media operating procedure for presidents and their administrations along with many pundits. On the last day of November 2003, with US troops occupying Iraq, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gushed that "this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan." He lauded the war as "one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad." Friedman did not mention the estimated 112 billion barrels of untapped oil in Iraq.

The publicized arguments in favor of war do not usually include zeal to serve corporate interests. But once in a blue moon, politicians opt to openly illuminate such motives, as when - during congressional debate in January 1991, a few days before the Gulf War began - Senator Warren Rudman grounded the prevailing lofty arguments with a factor more crude. "Can anyone reasonably assert," he asked, "that it would serve our interests to mortgage the production and pricing levels of nearly one-half of the world's proven oil reserve to the whims of an ambitious tyrant? I think not."

A dozen years later, weeks before the invasion of Iraq, liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen launched a barrage of invective against a member of Congress who had dared to identify oil as "the strongest incentive" for the impending war. Cohen was vitriolic. The first word of his column was "liar." From there, he peppered his piece with references to Representative Dennis Kucinich as an "indomitable demagogue" and a "fool" who was "repeating a lie."

But Cohen would have done well to reread a front page of his own newspaper. Five months earlier, on September 15, 2002, a page-one Post story carried the headline "In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue; US Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool." In the article, Ahmad Chalabi, the exile leader of the US-backed Iraqi National Congress, said that he favored the creation of a US-led consortium to develop oil fields in a post-Saddam Iraq: "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil."

The same Post article quoted former CIA Director James Woolsey - a Chalabi supporter who, according to a Legal Times story, had been on the payroll of Chalabi's group. Woolsey said: "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them. If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."

As business pages had sometimes indicated, it was actually quite reasonable to identify oil as very important in US policy toward Iraq. But in political news coverage, and among all but a few mainstream political pundits, such talk was in general disrepute.

On Wall Street, financial analysts were inclined to be much more candid than politicians or political reporters. "Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath," said Fadel Gheit, an expert on the oil industry for Oppenheimer & Company. He added: "You can't ask for better than that." After more than a quarter century of tracking the oil business, Gheit commented: "Think of Iraq as virgin territory.... It is the superstar of the future. That's why Iraq becomes the most sought-after real estate on the face of the earth."

A Toronto Star columnist and author, Linda McQuaig, cited internal documents that the Bush administration had used for policy formulation (papers not intended for public viewing but released due to a successful lawsuit). In spring 2001, high-ranking Bush officials and oil firm execs pored over a map showing details of "Exploration Blocks" and other intricacies of Iraq's oil fields. Meeting in secret, the energy task force - chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney - had also examined a chart that featured information about 63 oil companies from 30 nations under the heading "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfields."

The documents, McQuaig wrote, "suggest that those who took part in the Cheney task force - including senior oil company executives - were very interested in Iraq's oil and specifically in the danger of it falling into the hands of eager foreign oil companies, rather than into the rightful hands of eager US oil companies. As the documents show, prior to the US invasion, foreign oil companies were nicely positioned for future involvement in Iraq, while the major US oil companies, after years of US-Iraqi hostilities, were largely out of the picture." Of course, for oil corporations based in the USA, that picture would drastically change after the invasion.


On August 30, 2005, less than a minute after declaring that if terrorists "gain control of Iraq" they would "seize oil fields to fund their ambitions," President Bush vowed: "We will stay on the offensive. We will stand with the people of Iraq. And we will prevail."

The next day, the Associated Press reported that "President Bush answered growing anti-war protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists." The end of another AP dispatch noted: "A one-time oilman, Bush has rejected charges that the war in Iraq is a struggle to control the nation's vast oil wealth. The president has avoided making links between the war and Iraq's oil reserves, but the soaring cost of gasoline has focused attention on global petroleum sources."

For years, war supporters have pooh-poohed slogans like "No Blood for Oil." But let the record show: In a scripted speech, the president of the United States has cited Iraqi oil as a key reason for the US military to keep killing in Iraq.


This article is adapted from Norman Solomon's new book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For information, go to:

Bush to New Orleans: Drop Dead

A Failure of Leadership
"Bush to New Orleans: Drop Dead"

Neither the death of the chief justice nor the frantic efforts of panicked White House political advisers can conceal the magnitude of the president's failure of leadership last week. The catastrophe in New Orleans billowed up like the howling winds of hell and was carried live and in color on television screens across the U.S. and around the world.

The Big Easy had turned into the Big Hurt, and the colossal failure of George W. Bush to intervene powerfully and immediately to rescue tens of thousands of American citizens who were suffering horribly and dying in agony was there for all the world to see.

Hospitals with deathly ill patients were left without power, with ventilators that didn't work, with floodwaters rising on the lower floors and with corpses rotting in the corridors and stairwells. People unable to breathe on their own, or with cancer or heart disease or kidney failure, slipped into comas and sank into their final sleep in front of helpless doctors and relatives. These were Americans in desperate trouble.

The president didn't seem to notice.

Death and the stink of decay were all over the city. Corpses were propped up in wheelchairs and on lawn furniture, or left to decompose on sunbaked sidewalks. Some floated by in water fouled by human feces.

Degenerates roamed the city, shooting at rescue workers, beating and robbing distraught residents and tourists, raping women and girls. The president of the richest, most powerful country in the history of the world didn't seem to notice.

Viewers could watch diabetics go into insulin shock on national television, and you could see babies with the pale, vacant look of hunger that we're more used to seeing in dispatches from the third world. You could see their mothers, dirty and hungry themselves, weeping.

Old, critically ill people were left to soil themselves and in some cases die like stray animals on the floor of an airport triage center. For days the president of the United States didn't seem to notice.

He would have noticed if the majority of these stricken folks had been white and prosperous. But they weren't. Most were black and poor, and thus, to the George W. Bush administration, still invisible.

After days of withering criticism from white and black Americans, from conservatives as well as liberals, from Republicans and Democrats, the president finally felt compelled to act, however feebly. (The chorus of criticism from nearly all quarters demanding that the president do something tells me that the nation as a whole is so much better than this administration.)

Mr. Bush flew south on Friday and proved (as if more proof were needed) that he didn't get it. Instead of urgently focusing on the people who were stranded, hungry, sick and dying, he engaged in small talk, reminiscing at one point about the days when he used to party in New Orleans, and mentioning that Trent Lott had lost one of his houses but that it would be replaced with "a fantastic house - and I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever by a president during a dire national emergency. What we witnessed, as clearly as the overwhelming agony of the city of New Orleans, was the dangerous incompetence and the staggering indifference to human suffering of the president and his administration.

And it is this incompetence and indifference to suffering (yes, the carnage continues to mount in Iraq) that makes it so hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the United States over the next few years. At a time when effective, innovative leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of war and peace, terrorism and domestic security, the economic imperatives of globalization and the rising competition for oil, the United States is being led by a man who seems oblivious to the reality of his awesome responsibilities.

Like a boy being prepped for a second crack at a failed exam, Mr. Bush has been meeting with his handlers to see what steps can be taken to minimize the political fallout from this latest demonstration of his ineptitude. But this is not about politics. It's about competence. And when the president is so obviously clueless about matters so obviously important, it means that the rest of us, like the people left stranded in New Orleans, are in deep, deep trouble.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company H

Paul Krugman on The New Orleans DISASTER

Killed by Contempt
Each day since Katrina brings more evidence of the lethal ineptitude of federal officials. I'm not letting state and local officials off the hook, but federal officials had access to resources that could have made all the difference, but were never mobilized.

Here's one of many examples: The Chicago Tribune reports that the U.S.S. Bataan, equipped with six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds and the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, has been sitting off the Gulf Coast since last Monday - without patients.

Experts say that the first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the crucial window during which prompt action can save many lives. Yet action after Katrina was anything but prompt. Newsweek reports that a "strange paralysis" set in among Bush administration officials, who debated lines of authority while thousands died.

What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action - and he didn't deliver.

But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?

Does anyone remember the fight over federalizing airport security? Even after 9/11, the administration and conservative members of Congress tried to keep airport security in the hands of private companies. They were more worried about adding federal employees than about closing a deadly hole in national security.

Of course, the attempt to keep airport security private wasn't just about philosophy; it was also an attempt to protect private interests. But that's not really a contradiction. Ideological cynicism about government easily morphs into a readiness to treat government spending as a way to reward your friends. After all, if you don't believe government can do any good, why not?

Which brings us to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In my last column, I asked whether the Bush administration had destroyed FEMA's effectiveness. Now we know the answer.

Several recent news analyses on FEMA's sorry state have attributed the agency's decline to its inclusion in the Department of Homeland Security, whose prime concern is terrorism, not natural disasters. But that supposed change in focus misses a crucial part of the story.

For one thing, the undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA's preparedness programs.

You might have expected the administration to reconsider its hostility to emergency preparedness after 9/11 - after all, emergency management is as important in the aftermath of a terrorist attack as it is following a natural disaster. As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago.

But the downgrading of FEMA continued, with the appointment of Michael Brown as Mr. Allbaugh's successor.

Mr. Brown had no obvious qualifications, other than having been Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate. But Mr. Brown was made deputy director of FEMA; The Boston Herald reports that he was forced out of his previous job, overseeing horse shows. And when Mr. Allbaugh left, Mr. Brown became the agency's director. The raw cronyism of that appointment showed the contempt the administration felt for the agency; one can only imagine the effects on staff morale.

That contempt, as I've said, reflects a general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility.

The administration has always tried to treat 9/11 purely as a lesson about good versus evil. But disasters must be coped with, even if they aren't caused by evildoers. Now we have another deadly lesson in why we need an effective government, and why dedicated public servants deserve our respect. Will we listen?


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Richard Ford on New Orleans

September 4, 2005
A City Beyond the Reach of Empathy
East Boothbay, Me.

WHO can write about New Orleans now? Tell us what it's like there. Bring us near to what people are experiencing, to their loss, to what will survive. People who are close should write that. Only they're in the city, or they're on a bus, or they're seeking shelter. We don't know where they are.

It's just a keyhole, and a small one, onto this great civic tragedy. The people who should be writing of it can't be found. An attempt to set out a vocabulary for empathy and for reckoning is frustrated in a moment of sorest need by the plain terms of the tragedy that wants telling. There are many such keyholes.

In America, even with our incommensurable memories of 9/11, we still do not have an exact human vocabulary for the loss of a city - our great iconic city, so graceful, livable, insular, self-delighted, eccentric, the one New Orleanians always said, with a wink, that care forgot and that sometimes, it might seem, forgot to care. Other peoples have experienced their cities' losses. Some bombed away (sometimes by us). Others gone in the flood. Here now is one more tragedy that we thought, by some divinity's grace that didn't arrive, we'd miss. But not. And our inept attempts at words run only to lists, costs, to assessing blame. It's like Hiroshima, a public official said. But no. It's not like anything. It's what it is. That's the hard part. He, with all of us, lacked the words.

For those away from New Orleans - most all of us - in this week of tears and wrenching, words fail. Somehow our hearts' reach comes short and we've been left with an aching, pointless inwardness. "All memory resolves itself in gaze," the poet Richard Hugo wrote once about another town that died.

Empathy is what we long for - not sadness for a house we own, or owned once - now swept away. Not even for the felt miracle of two wide-eyed children whirled upward into a helicopter as if into clouds. And we want more than that, even at this painful long distance: we want to project our sympathies straight into the life of a woman standing waist-deep in a glistening toxic current with a whole city's possessions all floating about, her own belongings in a white plastic bag, and who has no particular reason for hope, and so is just staring up. We would all give her hope. Comfort. A part of ourselves. Perform an act of renewal. It's hard to make sense of this, we say. But it makes sense. Making sense just doesn't help.

Tell me what you feel, a woman in Los Angeles said to me today by telephone. (I have a telephone, of course.) Tell me what you think of when you think of New Orleans. There must be special things you feel the loss of. Memories. And I realized, by her voice, that she had made a firm decision already about this loss.

Oh, yes, I said, though not always the memories you'd think. I have a picture of my parents on V-J Day, in City Park, holding a baby, staring at the camera and the sun. They are all dressed up and happy. The baby is me. So, I wonder, how is that park faring tonight.

I have a memory of my father and mother drunk as loons on New Year's Eve, in front of Antoine's. It was nearly midnight, 1951. There was no place to leave me, so they had their fight (only an argument, really) in front of me. My father held my mother against a wall on St. Louis Street and shouted at her. About what I don't know. Later, when we were in bed in the Hotel Monteleone, with me between them and the ceiling fan turning, they both cried. So. What of Antoine's now? What of the waiters who a week ago stood out on the street in tuxedos aprons and smoked? What of St. Louis Street?

I have a memory of a hot and breathless summer. It is many summers joined into one. My mother took me onto the Algiers Ferry, an open boat with cars driven onto the deck. Out on the great sliding brown river there was the only hint of breeze you could find anywhere. Back and across to the foot of Canal Street. Back and across, we went. She bought me pralines. I held her hand during it all, until the sun finally fell and the hot night rose. So, now, what of that river? And the Algiers Ferry? And Algiers? All memory resolves itself in gaze.

And a last one, more up to date. My wife and I are walking home from a friend's house down tree-shrouded Coliseum Street. It is 2003, and 11 o'clock on a warm January night. We are only steps from our door, just in a cone of street light, when a boy hops out of a car and says he will definitely kill us if we don't hand it over right away. He has a little silver pistol to persuade us. Let's say he's 16. And he is serious. But he laughs when we tell him we don't have a penny. And it's true. I pull my pockets out like a bum. "You people," he says, almost happily, his gun become an afterthought. "You shouldn't be out here this way." He shakes his head, looks at the pavement, then gets in his car and drives away. He, that boy - he'd be 19 - I hope he's safe somewhere.

It is - New Orleans is - a city foremost for special projections, for the things you can't do, see, think, consume, feel, forget up in Jackson or Little Rock or home in Topeka. "We're at the jumping-off place," Eudora Welty wrote. This was about Plaquemines, just across the river. It is - New Orleans - the place where the firm ground ceases and the unsound footing begins. A certain kind of person likes such a place. A certain kind of person wants to go there and never leave.

And there are the streetcars (or there were). And there are the oak trees and the lovely French boulevards and the stately rich men's houses. And Buddy Bolden was born there and Satchmo grew up in Storyville. Huey Long lived in the Roosevelt Hotel, where he really had a "de-duct box." His brother, Uncle Earl, was crazy as a betsy-bug. If you knew a waiter you could get a table anywhere. You couldn't get divorced or married or sell your house on Fat Tuesday. And while they didn't let Jews and blacks in the Boston Club, the races still mingled and often people danced in the streets. They subscribed to the Napoleonic Code.

But so much for memory now. It charms, but it confuses and possibly holds us back. It's hard enough to take things in. When I think of my friends in the city this morning, I think of them as high and dry, as being where they belong, being themselves in their normal life that was. I turn off the TV, as I did four years ago next week, just to think my own sorrowing and prospective thoughts of them.

From the ruins it's not easy to know what's best to think. Even the president may have felt this way in his low pass over that wide sheet of onyx water, the bobbing roofs peeking above the surfaces, the vast collapse, the wind-riddled buildings, that little figure (could he see who she was?) staring skyward. Something will be there when the flood recedes. We know that. It will be those people now standing in the water, and on those rooftops - many black, many poor. Homeless. Overlooked. And it will be New Orleans - though its memory may be shortened, its self-gaze and eccentricity scoured out so that what's left is a city more like other cities, less insular, less self-regarding, but possibly more self-knowing after today. A city on firmer ground.

I write in the place of others, today, for the ones who can't be found. And there is a blunt ending now, one we always feared, never wished for, and do not deserve. Don't get me wrong. We would all turn the days back if we could, have those old problems, those old eccentricities again. But today is a beginning. There's no better way to think of it now. Those others surely will be writing soon.

Richard Ford is a novelist.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Even David Brooks is Getting Smart?

September 4, 2005
The Bursting Point
As Ross Douthat observed on his blog, The American Scene, Katrina was the anti-9/11.

On Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani took control. The government response was quick and decisive. The rich and poor suffered alike. Americans had been hit, but felt united and strong. Public confidence in institutions surged.

Last week in New Orleans, by contrast, nobody took control. Authority was diffuse and action was ineffective. The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed.

The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield. No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting.

And the key fact to understanding why this is such a huge cultural moment is this: Last week's national humiliation comes at the end of a string of confidence-shaking institutional failures that have cumulatively changed the nation's psyche.

Over the past few years, we have seen intelligence failures in the inability to prevent Sept. 11 and find W.M.D.'s in Iraq. We have seen incompetent postwar planning. We have seen the collapse of Enron and corruption scandals on Wall Street. We have seen scandals at our leading magazines and newspapers, steroids in baseball, the horror of Abu Ghraib.

Public confidence has been shaken too by the steady rain of suicide bombings, the grisly horror of Beslan and the world's inability to do anything about rising oil prices.

Each institutional failure and sign of helplessness is another blow to national morale. The sour mood builds on itself, the outraged and defensive reaction to one event serving as the emotional groundwork for the next.

The scrapbook of history accords but a few pages to each decade, and it is already clear that the pages devoted to this one will be grisly. There will be pictures of bodies falling from the twin towers, beheaded kidnapping victims in Iraq and corpses still floating in the waterways of New Orleans five days after the disaster that caused them.

It's already clear this will be known as the grueling decade, the Hobbesian decade. Americans have had to acknowledge dark realities that it is not in our nature to readily acknowledge: the thin veneer of civilization, the elemental violence in human nature, the lurking ferocity of the environment, the limitations on what we can plan and know, the cumbersome reactions of bureaucracies, the uncertain progress good makes over evil.

As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970's, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future.

"Rats on the West Side, bedbugs uptown/What a mess! This town's in tatters/I've been shattered," Mick Jagger sang in 1978.

Midge Decter woke up the morning after the night of looting during the New York blackout of 1977 feeling as if she had "been given a sudden glimpse into the foundations of one's house and seen, with horror, that it was utterly infested and rotting away."

Americans in 2005 are not quite in that bad a shape, since the fundamental realities of everyday life are good. The economy and the moral culture are strong. But there is a loss of confidence in institutions. In case after case there has been a failure of administration, of sheer competence. Hence, polls show a widespread feeling the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.

Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970's. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change.

We're not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore.


Nicholas D. Kristof is on vacation.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

The Breaking Point...Frank Rich

September 4, 2005
Falluja Floods the Superdome
AS the levees cracked open and ushered hell into New Orleans on Tuesday, President Bush once again chose to fly away from Washington, not toward it, while disaster struck. We can all enumerate the many differences between a natural catastrophe and a terrorist attack. But character doesn't change: it is immutable, and it is destiny.

As always, the president's first priority, the one that sped him from Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2.

After dispatching Katrina with a few sentences of sanctimonious boilerplate ("our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens"), he turned to his more important task. The war in Iraq is World War II. George W. Bush is F.D.R. And anyone who refuses to stay his course is soft on terrorism and guilty of a pre-9/11 "mind-set of isolation and retreat." Yet even as Mr. Bush promised "victory" (a word used nine times in this speech on Tuesday), he was standing at the totemic scene of his failure. It was along this same San Diego coastline that he declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln more than two years ago. For this return engagement, The Washington Post reported, the president's stage managers made sure he was positioned so that another hulking aircraft carrier nearby would stay off-camera, lest anyone be reminded of that premature end of "major combat operations."

This administration would like us to forget a lot, starting with the simple fact that next Sunday is the fourth anniversary of the day we were attacked by Al Qaeda, not Iraq. Even before Katrina took command of the news, Sept. 11, 2005, was destined to be a half-forgotten occasion, distorted and sullied by a grotesquely inappropriate Pentagon-sponsored country music jamboree on the Mall. But hard as it is to reflect upon so much sorrow at once, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the real history surrounding 9/11; it is the Rosetta stone for what is happening now. If we are to pull ourselves out of the disasters of Katrina and Iraq alike, we must live in the real world, not the fantasyland of the administration's faith-based propaganda. Everything connects.

Though history is supposed to occur first as tragedy, then as farce, even at this early stage we can see that tragedy is being repeated once more as tragedy. From the president's administration's inattention to threats before 9/11 to his disappearing act on the day itself to the reckless blundering in the ill-planned war of choice that was 9/11's bastard offspring, Katrina is déjà vu with a vengeance.

The president's declaration that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" has instantly achieved the notoriety of Condoleezza Rice's "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center." The administration's complete obliviousness to the possibilities for energy failures, food and water deprivation, and civil disorder in a major city under siege needs only the Donald Rumsfeld punch line of "Stuff happens" for a coup de grâce. How about shared sacrifice, so that this time we might get the job done right? After Mr. Bush's visit on "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Diane Sawyer reported on a postinterview conversation in which he said, "There won't have to be tax increases."

But on a second go-round, even the right isn't so easily fooled by this drill (with the reliable exception of Peggy Noonan, who found much reassurance in Mr. Bush's initial autopilot statement about the hurricane, with its laundry list of tarps and blankets). This time the fecklessness and deceit were all too familiar. They couldn't be obliterated by a bullhorn or by the inspiring initial post-9/11 national unity that bolstered the president until he betrayed it. This time the heartlessness beneath the surface of his actions was more pronounced.

You could almost see Mr. Bush's political base starting to crumble at its very epicenter, Fox News, by Thursday night. Even there it was impossible to ignore that the administration was no more successful at securing New Orleans than it had been at pacifying Falluja.

A visibly exasperated Shepard Smith, covering the story on the ground in Louisiana, went further still, tossing hand grenades of harsh reality into Bill O'Reilly's usually spin-shellacked "No Spin Zone." Among other hard facts, Mr. Smith noted "that the haves of this city, the movers and shakers of this city, evacuated the city either immediately before or immediately after the storm." What he didn't have to say, since it was visible to the entire world, was that it was the poor who were left behind to drown.

In that sense, the inequality of the suffering has not only exposed the sham of the relentless photo-ops with black schoolchildren whom the president trots out at campaign time to sell his "compassionate conservatism"; it has also positioned Katrina before a rapt late-summer audience as a replay of the sinking of the Titanic. New Orleans's first-class passengers made it safely into lifeboats; for those in steerage, it was a horrifying spectacle of every man, woman and child for himself.

THE captain in this case, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, was so oblivious to those on the lower decks that on Thursday he applauded the federal response to the still rampaging nightmare as "really exceptional." He told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water" - even though every television viewer in the country had been hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day. This Titanic syndrome, too, precisely echoes the post-9/11 wartime history of an administration that has rewarded the haves at home with economic goodies while leaving the have-nots to fight in Iraq without proper support in manpower or armor. Surely it's only a matter of time before Mr. Chertoff and the equally at sea FEMA director, Michael Brown (who also was among the last to hear about the convention center), are each awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in line with past architects of lethal administration calamity like George Tenet and Paul Bremer.

On Thursday morning, the president told Diane Sawyer that he hoped "people don't play politics during this period of time." Presumably that means that the photos of him wistfully surveying the Katrina damage from Air Force One won't be sold to campaign donors as the equivalent 9/11 photos were. Maybe he'll even call off the right-wing attack machine so it won't Swift-boat the Katrina survivors who emerge to ask tough questions as it has Cindy Sheehan and those New Jersey widows who had the gall to demand a formal 9/11 inquiry.

But a president who flew from Crawford to Washington in a heartbeat to intervene in the medical case of a single patient, Terri Schiavo, has no business lecturing anyone about playing politics with tragedy. Eventually we're going to have to examine the administration's behavior before, during and after this storm as closely as its history before, during and after 9/11. We're going to have to ask if troops and matériel of all kinds could have arrived faster without the drain of national resources into a quagmire. We're going to have to ask why it took almost two days of people being without food, shelter and water for Mr. Bush to get back to Washington.

Most of all, we're going to have to face the reality that with this disaster, the administration has again increased our vulnerability to the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting after 9/11. As Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar, pointed out to The Washington Post last week in talking about the fallout from the war in Iraq, there have been twice as many terrorist attacks outside Iraq in the three years after 9/11 than in the three years before. Now, thanks to Mr. Bush's variously incompetent, diffident and hubristic mismanagement of the attack by Katrina, he has sent the entire world a simple and unambiguous message: whatever the explanation, the United States is unable to fight its current war and protect homeland security at the same time.

The answers to what went wrong in Washington and on the Gulf Coast will come later, and, if the history of 9/11 is any guide, all too slowly, after the administration and its apologists erect every possible barrier to keep us from learning the truth. But as Americans dig out from Katrina and slouch toward another anniversary of Al Qaeda's strike, we have to acknowledge the full extent and urgency of our crisis. The world is more perilous than ever, and for now, to paraphrase Mr. Rumsfeld, we have no choice but to fight the war with the president we have.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company