We’re going to start today with a historical pop quiz (don’t worry, I’m a teacher – licensed to quiz).
First question: While Emperor of Rome, Nero was at war with which countries/empires?
Second question: What did he do while Rome burned?
Answers will be at the end. In the meantime, let me talk about Bush’s State of the Union for a bit.
I’m going to start with the numbers: out of over 5,300 words, a scant 134 addressed the devastation of the Gulf Coast and my home. Back in early December, I wrote that living in New Orleans felt like being “forgotten, and left to rot.” Nothing Bush has done since then has changed that feeling, and his State of the Union address certainly emphasized it quite nicely.
Since it won’t take long, I’m going to take a close look at those words:
“A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency …”
Society, American and foreign, did indeed come to our aid during the emergency, and we are deeply grateful for it, though I don’t think I need to point out that the federal government was a tad slow in responding itself.
“… and stays at it until they're back on their feet.”
I guess that’s what a hopeful society would do, but the federal government is apparently only interested until everyone in the rest of the country gets Katrina fatigue.
“So far, the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.”
True, though he didn’t bother to mention that the vast majority of that was required by law. We actually have laws that dictate what the federal government MUST do in response to disasters, and the Bush administration has indeed obeyed the law (for a change).
“We are removing debris …”
Actually, most of the debris is still here, over five months later. A lot of what has been “removed” only got shuffled around. There’s a neutral ground in the city that FEMA turned into an impromptu dumping ground. The trash there has piled up to about 4 stories and extends for block after block after block – it’s become quite the tourist attraction. Also, FEMA will stop removing trash before the month is out, and we had to beg them to extend their time to get that.
“… and repairing highways …”
The rebuilding of the twin span is the only repair that has been completed and completed ahead of schedule, so I do have to give the federal government props for rebuilding … a federal interstate highway. Uh, thanks.
“… and rebuilding stronger levees.”
At best, he is entirely misinformed here, or he’s just lying. The Army Corps of Engineers has told us again and again and again that they are only mandated to rebuild the levees to the (clearly inadequate) strength they had before the storm. We have asked repeatedly for stronger levees, and been denied every time.
“We’re providing business loans …”
The SBA is apparently doing this, though after some guy showed up and spent a long time measuring my house and assuring me they would get money into my hands quickly, I have yet to hear from them again or been able to get a straight answer when I call them. At this point, I wish they would just tell me I’m not approved and get it over with.
On a less personal note, the farmers of Louisiana have yet to receive assistance, while in 2004 the farmers of Florida received assistance two weeks after Hurricane Charley. Two weeks vs. five months, though I’m sure that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the president’s brother being governor of Florida.
“… and housing assistance.”
Is he referring to the assistance I finally got a week ago? Or the assistance that I’m not going to get in the future? Or the way FEMA kicked people out of shelters last month? Or how it took a court order to get FEMA to pay for hotels? And that ran out two days ago and those people are now on the street? Did I mention that at least 80% of New Orleans is still uninhabitable?
“Yet, as we address these immediate needs …”
In nothing remotely resembling an immediate manner.
“… we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived. In New Orleans and in other places,”
Thank you for using the annihilation of my city as a way to talk about problems elsewhere. How deeply respectful.
“… many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country.”
Actually, at this point I’m less concerned with the country as a whole keeping its pretty vaguely defined promise, as I am with one person keeping the promise he made in Jackson Square not too long ago, the one that mentioned doing “whatever it takes” to rebuild New Orleans. Anytime he wants to keep that one is okay by me.
“The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business.”
So to achieve that, Bush is opposing the Baker bill, the only piece of legislation aimed at actually helping the people of Louisiana with that home-ownership vision thing.
And that’s it. No mention of the nearly two thousand (so far) people who lost their lives, no serious mention of the 2 million Americans that can’t get back to their homes, and obviously no mention of anything resembling some specifics of what is to be done.
Human-animal hybrids – that demands legislation. The recovery of the Gulf Coast? Not so much.
But besides counting words or proposing legislative specifics, there are other ways of weighing the importance of the various issues Bush mentioned. For instance, you ever notice that news stories start with the most important aspect and go from there? Standard journalism style - you start with the most important thing because that’s as long as anyone can be expected to listen, and then blather on to the least important thing at the end.
By that measure, the devastation of the Gulf Coast is not the last thing that Bush wants to deal with, just next to last. Absolute last place belongs to African-Americans with AIDS. So we have that going for us, though I’m not sure where that puts African-American New Orleanians with AIDS.
Bush mentioned history a lot in his speech, and clearly was trying to put the war with Iraq into the sweep of history. After the speech, the commentariat blabbed quite a bit about Bush aiming for his place in history.
For the record, Nero warred with Britain and the Parthians, expensive conflicts that, combined with his ever more tyrannical domestic policies, so turned the Senate and the people against him that he had to commit suicide to avoid execution. The Parthian Empire, by the way, was based out of the Middle East, not that anyone but ancient history majors remembers any of that.
But despite the fact that Rome didn’t have fiddles, everyone knows Nero fiddled while Rome burned. He actually sang, but the idea is remembered.
So don’t worry, George W. Bush, your place in history is assured – you just keep fiddling.