Daily Archives: January 6, 2006

Everything you knew about Hurricane Katrina was wrong

We’ve heard it over and over again: Hurricane Katrina was not just a natural disaster, and not just a tragic case of government bungling, but a searing indictment of American racism and social injustice.

Apparently, this conventional wisdom is completely wrong.

Knight Ridder reports:

Four months after Hurricane Katrina, analyses of data suggest that some widely reported assumptions about the storm’s victims were incorrect.

For example, a comparison of locations where 874 bodies were recovered with U.S. census tract data indicates that the victims weren’t disproportionately poor. Another database of 486 Katrina victims from Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, compiled by Knight Ridder, suggests they also weren’t disproportionately African American.

Both sets of data are incomplete; Louisiana state officials have released no comprehensive list of the dead. Still, they provide the most comprehensive information available to date about who paid the ultimate price in the storm.

The one group that was disproportionately affected by the storm appears to have been older adults. People 60 and older account for only about 15 percent of the population in the New Orleans area, but the Knight Ridder database found that 74 percent of the dead were 60 or older. Nearly half were older than 75. Many of those were at nursing homes and hospitals, where nearly 20 percent of the victims were recovered.

Lack of transportation was assumed to be a key reason that many people stayed behind and died, but at many addresses where the dead were found, their cars remained in their driveways, flood-ruined symbols of fatal miscalculation.

The addresses where bodies were recovered were compiled by Louisiana state officials and released earlier this month. Knight Ridder charted the locations on a map of Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, then compared them with census data on income in those neighborhoods. The analysis excluded 216 bodies that were recovered from hospitals and nursing homes, as well as 63 recovered at collection points where people had dropped off bodies in the days after the storm …

The comparison showed that 42 percent of the bodies found in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes were recovered in neighborhoods with poverty rates higher than 30 percent. That’s only slightly higher than the 39 percent of residents who lived in such neighborhoods, according to the census data.

Similarly, 31 percent of the bodies turned up in areas with poverty rates below 15 percent, where 30 percent of the population lived.

The median household income in neighborhoods where Katrina victims were recovered was about $27,000 a year, just under the $29,000 median for the overall area.

One-fourth of Katrina deaths fell in census tracts with median incomes above $35,300. One-fourth of the area’s pre-storm population lived in tracts with median incomes above $37,000.

About 67 percent of the mapped deaths fell in the central and western portion of New Orleans, an area thought to have flooded primarily because of the failure of man-made structures.

The separate Knight Ridder database of 486 Katrina victims was compiled from official information released by state and federal authorities and interviews with survivors of the dead. It catalogued deaths according to location, race, age, name and cause of death.

In that database, African Americans outnumbered whites 51 percent to 44 percent. In the area overall, African Americans outnumber whites 61 percent to 36 percent.

In Orleans Parish, 62 percent of known Katrina victims were African American, compared with 66 percent for the total parish population.

In St. Bernard Parish, 92 percent of the identified victims were white. Census figures show that 88 percent of parish residents identified themselves as white.

Among hurricane victims on the Knight Ridder list, men outnumbered women 51 percent to 49 percent, about the same as in the overall area before the storm.

(Hat tip: Eric at Classical Values.)

Of course, deaths are not the only measure of Katrina’s impact. It may well be, for instance, that the people left dispossessed by the hurricane are disproportionately poor and/or black; it is very likely that people with few resources will find recovery more diffcult. But Katrina’s dead were certainly the starkest evidence of the hurricane’s devastating impact; and we were told that those dead had been killed by racism and economic injustice, by societal and political indifference to the plight of black people and poor people. So the Knight Ridder investigation does, in fact, seem to knock down Katrina’s central myth.

Eric inquires:

Is it reasonable to expect apologies from the people who claimed that the deaths were a form of “genocide” caused by Bush racism?

Reasonable, yes; realistic, no.

Meanwhile, GayPatriot.com suggests one obvious conclusion: “George Bush hates old people!”

On a more serious note: the paucity of coverage this story has received is disappointing, and rather remarkable. The article was released by Knight Ridder on December 30 and picked up by 22 Knight-Ridder newspaper, but few featured it very prominently. Only three — The Charlotte Observer, The Akron Beacon Journal, and The Bradenton Herald (Florida) — ran it on the front page; most buried it well inside. The analysis has received no mention in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today; there has not been a single editorial commenting on it, from any of the papers that told us all about how Katrina has exposed the inequities of race and class in America.

No wonder a lot of people think there really is a “liberal media.”

Rather surprisingly, the blogosphere has also paid little attention to this debunking of Katrina myths. Yet this is an important story which says a great deal about the knee-jerk acceptance of claims that support conventional wisdom about America’s social ills. It should be reported more widely, and there should be more apologies.


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Unhinged, revisited

Dave Neiwert responds to my posts responding to his critique of Michelle Malkin’s book, Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

Neiwert believes I’m wrong to equate political nastiness on the right and the left when the right is clearly so much worse. (Of course, a lot of my conservative commenters think I’m wrong to equate political nastiness on the right and the left when the left is clearly so much worse.) It may well be that I’m wrong. I’m not a believer in balance for the sake of balance, an approach which Dave summarizes with this acid quote: “If two groups are locked in argument, one maintaining that 2+2=4, and the other claiming that 2+2=6, sure enough, an Englishman will walk in and settle on 2+2=5, denouncing both groups as extremists.” There are certainly many instances (“intelligent design” vs. Darwinian evolution, communism vs. anticommunism) where I don’t think that each side has its good points.

But what about Dave Neiwert’s specific rebuttal?

Look at the examples Young proffers:

— Some Democratic Underground commenters who intentionally chose not to stop and help a Bush supporter with auto trouble by the roadside.

— Markos’ “screw them” comment regarding the four contractors killed at Fallujah.

— Some Manichean “us and them” rhetoric from Howard Dean.

— Some remarks from Michael Moore and Garrison Keillor that even Young admits are not really all that ugly.

Notice something missing? How about the fact that none of these people on the left come even close to having the kind of mass audience that Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh enjoy?

Time out. Michael Moore and Howard Dean don’t have a mass audience comparable to O’Reilly & Co.? All right, neither of them broadcasts daily, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily less influential. (Dean routinely adresses and fires up Democratic audiences around the country.) Markos Moulitsas — the Daily Kos — has a huge Internet following. Garrison Keillor has an audience of about 4 million on National Public Radio. (I should clarify, by the way, that my example of Markos’ “Screw them” remark was cited as a specific parallel to Rush Limbaugh saying that the peace activists who were taken hostage in Iraq were asking for it.)

Neiwert goes on:

But the main element lacking in these examples is pretty self-evident: None of these remarks are eliminationist. None of them describes a desire to simply eliminate a significant bloc of one’s opposition, let alone its entirety (though Keillor’s, which wishes for the disenfranchisement of born-again Christians, comes close).

In particular, Neiewert takes exception with this comment from my second blogpost:

No one really thinks (I hope) that Limbaugh, Coulter, and O’Reilly are seriously advocating the murder and incarceration of millions of liberals. What makes their rhetoric so poisonous is that (a) as Neiwert points out, it amounts to “a declaration of enmity” rather than a desire to debate, and (b) certain ideas, such as killing or rounding up one’s political opponents, are too vile to be broached even as a “joke.”

Viewed that way, there isn’t that much distance between urging deportation and urging secession.

(Bold added by Dave Neiwert.)

Neiwert comments:

Perhaps Young finds this distance so short because her description elides the most significant component of this: the desire to inflict harm. If you go back and read the post that Young cites, you’ll see that I describe the problem with eliminationism thus: “It’s simply a declaration of enmity and the intent to cause harm.

Viewed this way — that is, as reality — there is a significant distance between deportation and secession. The former indeed wishes serious harm upon its victims, including deprivation of their rights, their livelihoods, and their property; while the latter wishes not to be politically obligated or connected to their opponents any longer — it merely severs the relationship, instead of inflicting actual harm.

As reality? Does Dave Neiwert think that Bill O’Reilly really thinks it would be okay for the Al Qaeda to blow up San Francisco, or that Rush Limbaugh really thinks that it would be a good idea to kill all the liberals except for a couple who should be preserved as living relics? I don’t. As much as I loathe Ann Coulter, I don’t think even she really wishes that Timothy McVeigh had driven his explosives-laden truck into the New York Times building.

Neiwert cites his earlier post discussing “eliminationism” in which he says:

And yes, it’s often voiced as crude “jokes”, the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred.

But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.

As surely as night follows day? Examples?

I think the liberal-bashing rhetoric Neiwert rightly finds appalling is bad because it’s poisonous and hateful, because it treats the opposition as the enemy, and because it precludes dialogue or engagement or any search for common ground — not because it is an actual declaration of intent to harm. I guess we simply disagree on that one. I will note that in his examples of the hatefulness of this rhetoric, Neiwert quite rightly cites not only comments threatening liberals with harm, but also things like this Coulterism: “They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America’s self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn’t slowed them down.”

Neiwert also points out that in the 1990s, extremist conservative speech — specifically the wild rhetoric about Clinton — had no real counterpart on the left, and that the rise of left-wing nastiness was simply a reaction. I think it’s quite true that in the 1990s, right-wing talk radio vitriol had no counterpart on the left in terms of crudeness, name-calling, overt polemical vitriol, conspiracy-mongering, etc. But as I noted in my first “unhinged” post, there definitely was a lot of nastiness (and demonization) of a more genteel sort — the “Republicans are evil people who want to poison the air and water, starve kids, throw Grandma out on the streets, enslave black people and kick puppies” variety, the portrayal of Republicans and conservatives (not only in overtly political speech, but also in movies and on television) as cloddish, bigoted, selfish, greedy, dumb, etc. etc. And I do think that many conservatives’ hostility to liberals was driven by this sort of contempt — just as, for many conservatives, the politics of demonization began with the attacks on Robert Bork (who, for all his manifold sins, certainly did not deserve to be accused of wanting a return to “segregated lunch counters”) and Clarence Thomas.

Neiwert asks:

Indeed, one has to wonder where Young was during most of the 1990s, when the right was frothing over with hatred of Bill Clinton and the mainstream left. Much of the eliminationist right-wing rhetoric that flourishes today, as well as the utter lack of civility and decorum on both sides, originated in those years.

For the record, I was writing a column for The Detroit News (no longer available online thanks to the Supreme Court decision protecting free-lance writers like me from having their work electronically reproduced without their permission, and to my own negligence in returning the permission form), in which I criticized, more than once, the Republicans’ Clinton obsession. But I also remember other things from the 1990s. There was, for instance, the rhetoric suggesting that conservative critiques of big government had helped set the stage for the Oklahoma City bombing, or that Timothy McVeigh was driven by the same kind of ideas that led to the 1994 Republican victory in Congress. There was Al Gore’s 1998 speech to the NAACP, in which he said that opponents of race-based affirmative action “use their colorblind the way duck hunters use a duck blind — they hide behind it and hope the ducks won’t notice,” and went on to implicitly link them to hate crimes against blacks.

Finally, about solutions to the problem: Dave Neiwert says that if the left makes a conscious effort to stigmatize political hate speech in its ranks, it won’t do much to promote civility or dialogue because the right will only get nastier. I think that, in the current climate, unilateral disarmanent is unlikely to work, on either side. That’s why my suggestion from the start was a liberal/conservative coalition against hate (so to speak). I was thinking of a joint initiative by politicians, but in the meantime, why not us bloggers right here on the Internet? We already have a “Porkbusters” initiative; how about “Hatebusters”?


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