by Paul, 10/25/2007, 8:50 AM

Looking around at photos and video from the SoCal wildfires, I don’t see too many black faces. In fact, I don’t recall having seen a single black face. Which makes me wonder if all the comparisons of the fires with Katrina, from the headcounts to the Bush Administration’s (supposed) response, are missing a singular point.

Not to minimize the plight of the wildfire evacuees, it needs to be pointed out that they are (appear to be, till statistical analysis is done) mostly white (undoubtedly Latino will tally as well), mostly politically conservative (with at least a tinge of religiosity), and mostly well to do (especially contrasted with Katrina victims) if not rich by general American standards. There’s some grim irony, too, in the “we take care of our own” pledges emerging from wildfire coverage. The caretakers and the caretakees look a lot alike.

Where are the stories of widespread looting? Where are the paramilitary and outside police forces called in to maintain law and order? How many bands of wildfire refugees have been blocked from crossing bridges into neighboring jurisdictions, or turned away by bayonetted soldiers from returning to the site of their homes? Where are the bulldozers, scraping down houses that might be rebuilt?

And the pets. Any pet owner (I’m one) was sickened by the wrenching site of animals wandering around lost after being forcibly abandoned by their owners. Remember the video of the little white dog jumping up to the closed doors of the evacuation bus? Cut to San Diego, where entire “pet evacuation centers” have sprung up.

You had people dying in the Superdome, while Qualcomm Stadium abounds with stories of Starbucks’ lattes and human kindness. You had repeated suggestions that Katrina victims would simply have to relocate elsewhere, that New Orleans could — even should — never be rebuilt in its former image.

In a way, it’s too bad that the SoCal inferno didn’t happen a couple of years before Katrina. Then the “lessons learned” mantra (which, of course, has yet to be proven sincere) would have a truer test, and more meaningful execution. As it stands, the still unwhole citizens of New Orleans must be viewing the collective response to their supposed brethren halfway across the continent with a mixture of envy and disgust.

23 Responses to “Wildfire Response: A case of black and white?”

1. dutch spews:

Not sure where you are trying to go with this weird comparison, but following your style here are a few thoughts.
1. The fires didn’t happen in a dense urban environment (New Orleans had the problems, while the rest of Louisiana behaved as most people would)
2. If Downtown LA would have burned, things would be different.
3. Maybe it’s leadership and communication ? Nagin (we don’t need busses) and Blanco vs. Schwarzenegger and Nehrig for example.
4. Looting doesn’t happen because people are in peril, looting happens because barriers break down or because barriers haven’t been there (also see article of some people trying to steal supplies at Qualcom stadium)
5. Are you saying that conservatives are the better people in the way they handle themselves ? That they have values which don’t allow for looting, etc. but are helping each other ? Hmmm, interesting
6. NO looking at SCal with disgust ? Start with Nagin and co (and the election of the new governor is already a sign of this).
7. SoCal should be a sign of how things are and should be in the USA. People come together and help each other, all are in it together.

This has nothing to do with Blacks vs Whites or Latinos, it’s how people work and live together and how their “leadership” prepares them or how their leadership is prepared.

2. Paul Andrews spews:

Hey Dutch, perhaps I was being too meta-message here. One point I was trying to make is how differently the two disasters were portrayed. Not to be too broad-brushed, but with Katrina we saw an awful lot of coverage emphasizing the negatives, at the expense of the positives. It’s been just the opposite with the fires. I question whether the reality ratios were any different, but the portrayals certainly diverged.

Who decided that people who were desperate for food and water were looters? That people marching to find shelter should be turned back as undesirables? That pets had to be abandoned? You had the same needs with Katrina, but somehow the refugees there were tainted from the get-go, while the SoCal victims are far more sympathetic.

Admittedly, perceptions are hard to generalize and quantify. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe lessons were really learned. But I sense huge disparities here based on subtle prejudices that have yet to be identified and discussed.

3. Roger Rabbit spews:

The departure of hundreds of thousands of African Americans from Louisiana, who have not returned, has turned that state from a Democratic stronghold into at least a tossup and possibly a Republican state — which makes one wonder if that wasn’t the object all along of what appeared to be deliberate federal efforts to make the black wards of New Orleans permanently uninhabitable.

Get it now, Dutch? Everyone in the Bushit administration is a partisan; everything this corrupt-to-the-core administration does is politically motivated.

4. dutch spews:

3: That early and drunk already ?
Paul, Roger’s “statement” is probably a good example of why the perception is different. While in SoCal, fires happen, Santa Ana winds are not uncommon, etc…it’s hard to blame it on Bush or neo cons. Remember when Katrina hit it was “Blame Bush, it’s global Warming”. When the levies broke it was “Blame Bush, they bombed the damns”, when Blanco refused help, it was always Bush. The reports in the press were exaggerated from the beginning and people go scared. Remember the reports of murders etc in the superdome ? Remember the reports about violent gangs on a rampage ? All wrong, but it made people step back and afraid to go in and help.
Here you can’t blame it on Bush. So Roger, are you saying the government purposely directed a Hurricane to NO to displace democratic voters….
Must have been a long term plan starting in the 1990…wow.

5. KC Dem spews:

Paul Andrews

I’ve having a hard time following your article.

Your articles in the Seattle Times and books on Bill Gates were generally well written.

6. joe pine spews:

#4 — “When the levies broke it was “Blame Bush, they bombed the damns….’”

Dutch: The administration has been very careful to describe what happpened in New Orleans as the levees being “breached”, not broken.

“Why is that, Joe?” you might well have asked, if you had any cuiousity beyond WingNutz™ ideology

Because, Dutch, if the levees had broken (and there is footage showing them doing exactly that) then the Federal government, by law, would be responsible for all the damage because — guess what — the government built and supposedly maintained those levees. So they are responsible for ALL the damage.

Words do make a difference, my dear little pointy-headed wingnut. So, next time you bring the subject up: The levees were breached’ NOT broken!

7. joe pine spews:

“Who could have ever predicted that the levees could be (pregnant pause) BREACHED?” Condoleeza Rice (the War Criminal)

8. ArtFart spews:

I think I’ll have to add my vote that this is more than a bit of a stretch. The geography and the nature of the crisis are different here. Horrendous as it is, the fire damage is here and there, and mostly in outlying areas (where there’s more vegetation) rather than in city centers (where there’s mostly concrete). The whole region is criss-crossed with highways, so most if not all of those displaced had somewhere to go.

Mostly it’s a matter of the relative inappropriateness of development. The Los Angeles basin may have (debatably) been a shitty place to build a city, but the location of New Orleans is a whole lot shittier.

9. proud leftist spews:

Hey, all you troglodytes of the right, what do you think about Governor Ahnold saying that he thinks California’s fire hazards have been getting worse because of global warming?

10. joe pine spews:

I think that what Paul is trying to point out is that where you live and the relative wealth of that area determines the quality of service that you receive from the government. A pothole is more likely to be quickly filled by a city road crew in a wealthy part of town than in a poorer part. It’s just the way things work.

Similarly, when a lot of rich people lost their houses in the Hamptons due to flooding and poorly maintained sea walls, the Federal government REBUILT all the rich people’s homes for free. Because the Feds. had not properly maintained the sea walls.

But, what the poor residents of NO got was this:“Who could have ever predicted that the levees could be (pregnant pause) BREACHED?” Condoleeza Rice (the War Criminal)

11. uptown spews:

Even with hundreds of thousands being evacuated at a time, this is only a small portion of the population, and the roads are built to handle many times that just for daily commuters.

12. Politically Incorrect spews:

Thom Hartmann said this morning that if a corporation’s activities resulted in a person’s death, then the punishment for that corporation should be death. That is, their corporate charter should be revolked and the company dissolved. He was talking about some contamination at a meat packing plant in the Midwest, but let’s apply Thom’s opinion to our area.

A major aerospace company in our area knowingly ignored a defect in a product and an aviation crash caused many deaths. The sentence for this guilty company is death by dissolution of corporate charter and liquidation of assets. The company will cease to exist. Think about the ramifications of that outcome in this part of the country.

Suppose instead of our “hero” Thom Hartmann coming up with this moronic opinion, Rush Limbaugh had said the same thing on his morning show, that companies should be given the death penalty for wrong-doing. How do you supppose the media and the idiot bloggers would react? They’d be all over, the story, that’s how they’d react. Limbaugh, drug-addled idiot that he is, would get viciously attacked by the media while Thom Hartmann would get a pass.

Double standards go both ways: the left is just as guilty as the right when it comes to protecting their own, even when one of their own makes a moronic statement like Thom Hartmann did this morning.

13. Michael Caine spews:


Actually, we wouldn’t believe Limbaugh would have said such a thing and wouldn’t hold our breaths for him ever to push such a statement again. Personally, I don’t think it should call for the “death penalty” but that the company should be financially liable, that the court case wouldn’t be about whether they were or weren’t liable but how much liablity exists, who are the shareholders and how many shares each holder has.

14. Michael Caine spews:

There is no question that the responses are different between Katrina and the SoCal fires. It wasn’t just New Orleans that had to wait a week for any outside assistance, it was the entire region. It wasn’t just New Orleans that had people breaking into closed for the storm stores to get basic necessities of life, it was the whole region.

Meanwhile, in SoCal the Feds are there from day one assisting people. It doesn’t hurt that the SoCal areas affected are Republican districts. Another unspoken difference is that the average wealth of the people affected are in the realms of 10 times what it was for Katrina. Or that the “victims” aren’t trapped, surrounded by fire (or water in the case of Katrina) with no way to leave the evacuation drop off area. Nor is it ever brought up the amount of money that is being spent on handling the fallout also far and away exceeds what was spent on Katrina. Nor is it ever brought up that Katrina flattened an entire state, nearly half of a neighboring state and a 1/4 of two other states where the SoCal fires are only affecting about 1/5th to 1/6th the state they are located in and no other states. None of the above seems to get mentioned when comparing the two.

15. joe pine spews:

#12 — Once again, you are incorrect. Corporations demand the same priviliges as a real person, but they always seem to demand that they do not need to accept responsibility like a person does.

If my personal irresponsibility causes a death, I am held legally responsible and I may well go to jail. Should I be able to say that I should not be held responsible because I have six children and they will suffer?

Your argument has no merit.

16. Heathen Sinner spews:

Dutch @ #1 – Comment #5 – you mean there aren’t any liberals that have lost their house and handling it well. hmmm interesting – lying, cheat Republicans have core values when they’re not being family man (fat whore).

17. christmasghost spews:

paul……..your reasoning is a stretch at best…
i must ask you, are you trying to say that you are disappointed to not see more “black faces”?
why? would that make this disaster more ‘valid’ for you somehow?
if it will make you feel better maybe you should look at all the fire fighter’s faces….oh, i know it’s not the same for you, but……
look….disasters happen where they happen. why didn’t you make the statement that bush “couldn’t even protect his own rich white republican constituents?” i’m surprised you didn’t go there….it would be as valid as your specious[at best] argument.
did you ever for one moment think that perhaps…just perhaps…california is more prepared for disasters than some states? and that’s why there are pet evacuation facilities etc.?
really…’s bad enough what california is going through. we really don’t need people like you trying to create conspiracies where there are california we expect big earthquakes, and big fires and are as prepared as we can be for them. WE EXPECT THEM.
and new orleans should have been more prepared too…after all, it’s not like hurricanes there are a big surprise or anything.but they weren’t. it wasn’t the president’s fault that the hurricane hit [what are you? 3?] and it wasn’t his fault that the same santa ana’s that blow every year once again blew. DUH!
and i just can’t get over the fact that you actually made such a racist comment and are trying to hide it behind [fake] concern. black faces? i guess you must have been saying that there weren’t any black firefighters then. is that what you are trying to say? maybe we should ask why there aren’t…if there aren’t.
and sorry to disappoint you again…there was looting. supplies meant for disaster victims were stolen by illegal aliens… be resold for cash.
are you happy now?

18. ArtFart spews:

Hmmm…I get a little irked when someone automatically looks for race as a differentiator. It’s more class warfare now, and there were lots of poor white people crowded into that stadium in New Orleans along with the poor black folks. Betcha there weren’t a lot of millionaires.

Whether that was true at the shelters in SoCal this week, I dunno. It’s pretty hard to get around the fact that many of the areas that burned were pretty hills with pretty trees, which are conducive to people building rather fancy homes. They’re also conducive to wildfires–especially since someone decided it’d be even prettier if they planted a bunch of eucalyptus trees. Whether you’re rich or poor, having your home and everything in it reduced to ashes has to suck.

Also, fire is bad, especially lots of it, but it was possible to try and do something to contain or stop it. In New Orleans, once the levees broke, there was nothing anyone could do to do to stop the water.

It’s also quite likely that, after the embarrassment over the lousy job the government did responding to Katrina, maybe FEMA’s actually been trying to clean up its act. If not, we might have been treated to the sight of refugees being handed out heavy wool blankets and propane heaters while still-director Mike Brown went shopping for some new threads on Rodeo Drive.

19. ArtFart spews:

One might also consider the thought that, after the last few years of a real estate boom fueled by, shall we say, sketchy lending practices, some of the folks who were burned out of the California hills are now facing humongous mortgage obligations they were hardly able to meet anyway, combined with fighting their insurance carriers’ most diligent efforts to avoid paying up. In other words, we may be looking at folks who thought they were pretty well off a few days ago, who are dirt poor now.

20. David spews:

I watched part of a speech that Governor Arnold made. I was struck by one line of it. He said “Unlike previous natural disasters, the Federal Government is responding quickly.”

21. Paul Andrews spews:

Great dialog here! I’m keeping an open mind on all fronts, and it’s entirely possible that ensuing actions the next few days will quell my skepticism. Politically, it was a savvy move for Arnold to pair up with Bush — so long as it gets Cali some actual federal follow-through. The big test, (echoing ArtFart) will be the insurance cos. Already Cali’s Lt. Gov. has said he’ll nail insurance dodges…but SoCal Republicans can also afford real lawyers!

22. Rainlillie spews:

No black faces and no looting? What’s your point, only black people loot. When did rethugs start posting on this blog? And since when did Malibu become a bastion of conservatism?
Tell us all how hard you worked to save lives in Katrina? What cha say Paul, didn’t do anything?
Say, why don’t you tell everyone why you believe there was more violence in the superdome. Don’t be afraid to be called a racist, speak your white mind.

23. rhp6033 spews:

Let’s get past the intial storm and immediate response regarding Katrina, for the moment, to concentrate on what happened afterwards.

Bush promised to rebuild the city as it was. Congress appropriated some money to do so. Let’s see what happened thereafter.

(1) Local contractors attended a FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers meeting to learn how to bid on rebuilding contracts. There they were told that the contracts had already been issued on a no-bid basis (Halliburton/KKR) getting a big share), and local contractors would have to apply to those firms for sub-contracts. Meeting over. As they left the building, they learned that trucks were already arriving with immigrant laborers brought in from S. Texas to being the first stages. Few local contractors got any share of those federal contracts, most were resigned to working for private homeowners who had small jobs to do.

(2) The private utility company (think PSE for comparison) was told it would not receive any assistance in rebuilding, as it “should have saved for this contingency”. No money for rebuilding, no utility restoration in the Ninth Ward and other completely-flooded areas (predominatly Democratic). No utilities, no building permits issued, no building permits = no financing for rebuilding. Just to make sure the patient was dead, the ACE begins buildozing homes where the owners are still waiting for utilities to be restored in the area.

(3) Federal Disaster Aid requires the state and local governments to pay first and then receive reimbursment, and the state and local government pays the first 10%. BUT, this has always been waived in every major disaster, EXCEPT KATRINA. Federal officials insist that before they will issue checks for rebuilding, the entire cost must be paid by New Orleans and the state of Louisianna, presumably from tax revenues which are no longer existent due to the relocated population base and loss of most businesses in the affected areas, at which time they will BEGIN PROCESSING the payments, which may or may not be paid months or years later. When asked why only 3% of the funds had been spent over a year and a half later by the Federal Government, Bush just shrugs and says he doesn’t know, it was appropriated by Congress, it must be the fault of the state or city.

(4) With half of the largly Democratic population of New Orleans re-distributed across the country (mostly spread out in reliable “red states” such as Texas and Alabama), the Republicans have a good chance at capturing previously Democratic Congressional seats in New Orleans, as well as Louisina Senate seats.

(5) When Barbara Bush was surveying the Katrina refugees at the Astrodome and commenting that “this is working out very well for them”, Americans were appalled. But what they didn’t understand was that the “them” she was referring to wasn’t the Katrina refugees. It was the Republican Party.

(6) All the mud which continues to be thrown at Gov. Blanco and the N.O. Mayor Nagel is simply a continuation of the Bush administration’s # 1 policy: when you get caught with your pants down, blame the victim.

CONCLUSION: The Bush administration didn’t cause the hurricane. It may not have been solely at fault for the loss of lives and property (but certainly bears a good deal of the fault). But it has intentionally used the disaster to further its political agenda, even at the loss of a great American city and considerable hardship to its residents. The fact that they really don’t care about that says a lot.