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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Deep in late summer, cicadas still sing in the dark, but they won’t be here for long. It’s the ripe season my Wisconsin grandmothers spent canning. Coloring city gardens, zinnias and cosmos are going strong, but gold black-eyed Susans are fading, some with only black eyes left.

Congress stays away till after Labor Day, so it’s blessedly quiet. Except for one thing. August’s waning days bring more than an ordinary wistful sigh as we say so long to summer. A cup of memory travels south.

Ten years ago, this last stretch of August was the calm before an unimaginable storm laid bare a beguiling city and a feckless president, overnight.

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans hard on Aug. 30, 2005, her fury breaking the city’s levees. George W. Bush’s presidency shattered in the wake when he cavalierly flew over the drowned city and dipped a wing of Air Force One. He was on his way to Washington, I guess, and had better things to do.

Just like that late August day in 2001, when Bush blew off his CIA briefer who told him about the terrorist plot involving American planes. The September 11 attacks were closing in, days away. He got a pass.

Frankly, my dear, Bush was gone with the wind and water in 2005. Any faith left in the Iraq War he started in 2003 collapsed. It’s a usually long way from New Orleans to Baghdad, but not on that late summer day.

The public suddenly connected the dots between the government failing at home and failing abroad. Just like that. The American people, who like to like their presidents, saw clearly how shallow the Bush White House was, come high water.

The hurricane, followed by the Biblical flood, was an utterly unforgettable event, which caused a large American city to be evacuated for the first time; which caused some to drown in their homes in the Lower Ninth Ward; which caused human misery and lawlessness in the Superdome. These were the city’s underclass, blacks who did not have the resources to escape. Many never got home again.

The gale force of Katrina kept us bewildered at our screens, wondering if we had the right country. What was happening did not equal our notions about, you know, American can-do and capability. Where were the Marines and the Army Corps of Engineers? Not on CNN.

Where was the president’s spiffy Homeland Security department, founded after 9/11? Surely not that clownish man, Michael D. Brown (“Brownie” to a jocular Bush). A sense of haplessness governed the scene.

A forthcoming book, Shots on the Bridge, by Ronnie Greene, tells a tale of police brutality toward unarmed civilians after the hurricane hit. To the public eye, very little was being done to aid distressed people in a disaster.

Where was the President of the United States? Years later, Bush admitted his unserious response was “a huge mistake.”

By the way, weren’t we the country that wrote the book on emergency preparedness? Yes, the term dates back to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. And wasn’t that where General Andrew Jackson whipped the British in the Battle of New Orleans 200 years ago in 1815? That’s the America we like to think is still around.

The Crescent City with a song in its heart, a lark for love, a laugh ’round every corner in the enchanting French Quarter. Yes, that city broke our hearts 10 years ago. The city with the winding Mississippi River, which you can watch roll by with Cafe du Monde beignets, chicory coffee and charming company and conversation any time of day or night. Fancy-free, the city’s not meant for crying. It’s supposed to bend, not break with tragedy.

Bard Bob Dylan was inspired by the poetry in the air he found here: “Everything about New Orleans is a good idea.” Oh, yes, Bob. And one more cup of chicory coffee before I go.

As summer surrenders to fall, few will forget seeing a beguiling city drown in the rising sun.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit

Photo: Neighborhood cleanup effort along Bayou St. John creates a trash art piece out of some of the junk to be hauled away. “Bush Mobile” is a negative reference to then-president George W. Bush. Via user Infrogmation, Wikimedia Commons, uploaded January 29, 2006.

  • Polana

    Bush who??? The Brownie did good job?? or botched the job??

    • Daniel Jones

      Brown’s handling of Hurricane Katrina was, in a word, atrocious. It sucked harder than the hurricane blew. Seriously, research this, it’s only been ten damn years!

      • charleo1

        Well look, In defense of Michael Brown’s handling of the New Orleans disaster. It was a huge undertaking, and he did about as well as any former President of an Arabian horse breeders club could be expected to do in such a situation.

        • Daniel Jones

          Not denying. Brownie should simply have never been appointed in the first place. I and the article (I believe) am basically saying Georgie Porgie appointing him then saying he was doing a fine job without checking made the ship of state into the Raft of the Hesperus. FEMA’s, at any rate.

  • Dominick Vila

    Katrina did a lot more than expose W’s ineptitude, it also exposed a face of America than neither the world, nor many of us knew, or wanted to acknowledge. The very existence of tens of thousands of Americans so poor that they could not afford a bus ticket to escape from danger, the flimsy walls that passed for levees, and that when they collapsed caused one of the worst disasters in U.S. history, and seeing thousands of Americans sleeping in a stadium, in conditions that nobody would expect in a country with the highest GDP in the world, should give us all time to pose and reflect on the effects of electing idiots as leaders because of a cute retort or because they appear to be the kind of guys we would love to have a couple of beers with, and the pervasive effects of inequality and irresponsibility (refusal to invest in the things we need) that is turning the United States into an oligarchy or plutocracy where only the rich and powerful can enjoy the benefits of our enormous wealth.

  • charleo1

    We can blame the Bush Administration’s ineptitude, and it’s own particularly deep seated, and as it turned out, deadly combination of arrogance, and incompetency that led to both disasters. The drowning of a major American city, as well as the almost unbelievably stupid, military, and geo-political boondoggle in Iraq. That together served to lay bare in the minds of a wide swath of the general American public, that neither this President, nor any of the people he had placed around him had even the slightest idea of what the hell they were doing. Other disasters were soon to follow. As a tired, and seemingly clueless George Bush declared the state of an American Economy, already buckling under the weight of huge, and growing losses in the real estate sector, “strong.” The Bush Administration’s response to the financial crisis, was as typically Republican, as their response to the crisis in New Orleans, or the failed war in Iraq. First to approve far less capital, and send far too few troops, than was necessary to do the job. Then, while crying poor mouth, bailout the oil companies, the investor class. And say to the rest, the returning wounded in need of care, the jobless vet, the millions who lost their homes and livelihoods in the Great Recession. Or, the people in the Super dome, and those stranded for days on the rooftops of their flooded homes, you guys are on your own. It’s the kind of thing that that naturally happens, when government supposedly of, by and for the people, is run like a business. Those parts of the Country, with potential for profit, like the French Quarter in New Orleans, are invested in, and repaired. While those other parts, and those, “other people,” mostly African American, mostly poor, like those that lived in the Lower Ninth Ward, are told to move along.

    • silas1898

      The French Quarter is the oldest part of the city and the highest ground in the area. It doesn’t flood very often which is why it;s still there.

  • Polana

    Right on, and it looks that another one will be in WH and will add 10 stories higher to house all these incompetent, arrogant, stupid people.
    Why do they scream governments is to big etc and wanted to be in this government??
    They will make it bigger, more stupid and more wars, more spending. – they will need to pay back to the donors. Money talks BS walks and some people buy this $hit.
    America wake up!

  • silas1898

    I’m sorry but you cannot ” watch [the river]roll by with Cafe du Monde beignets” because the river is behind the levees, and well over your head.

  • silas1898

    In the silver lining category, Bush had pushed for the privatization of Social Security since his (gag) re-election. Katrina stopped that.