Commentary — 07 June 2010

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, White House correspondent for Hearst Newspapers recently announced her retirement following the controversy surrounding remarks on Jews and Israel back in May. Thomas, dubbed the “dean of the White House press corps” said in a videotaped interview given to a rabbi that Israeli Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Germany and Poland “or wherever they came from.”

Anytime, anyone for any reason tells a group of people to “go back where they came from” it usually evokes a visceral response…and rightfully so.

Also, be it right, wrong, indifferent…derisive remarks about Jews and Israel in general will generate a visceral response. There are some subjects, some viewpoints, analogies/comparisons, some sentiments that will never go over well. Israel, Judaism, Hitler, Jews and Palestine…those are the main ingredients in a recipe for major disaster in public commentary. History and media are rife with examples.

This is not a value judgment or an indictment in any sense, just an honest assessment of how certain subjects are dangerous fodder for quotes with one’s name attached.

Along those lines, I love, absolutely love how Jews and Jewish Americans protect the memory and legacy of the Holocaust. It’s honorable and essential. It’s not to be cheapened, appropriated or trivialized in any manner. Human tragedy should always occupy a reserved and sanctified space.

Always.

Truthfully, there are times when I wish we as African-Americans did a better job of protecting our own history and tragedies.

For weeks now as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, more and more “statements” have been made comparing this disaster to that of Hurricane Katrina. More specifically, it has been characterized as (President) “Obama’s Katrina.” The characterizations and criticisms have come from both sides of the political aisle with curiously, no sense of outrage from the African-American community.

What do I mean?

Yes, there are some base comparisons we can make regarding the two disasters. Both the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina will have an untold economic effect on the Gulf region for many years. That’s a fair comparison. They are both disasters and were exacerbated by a lethargic and inexcusable response by the federal government. That too is a fair comparison. In fact, in some ways the BP spill eclipses the disaster of Hurricane Katrina for the simple fact that the BP spill is still “spilling,” still gushing and still destroying the fragile oceanic ecosystem around it. All of this we should be able to agree upon without argument.

But here is where the house of cards comparison comes tumbling down…

Officially, the death toll connected to Hurricane Katrina was 1836 with another 135 still categorized as “missing.” If memory serves, The BP human death toll is currently hovering around zero. No disrespect to wildlife, but as a human being I place a greater value on the loss of human life than wildlife. Yes, as long as we have fish and game licenses, traveling circuses, sushi restaurants, oyster bars, Red Lobster and even Long John Silver’s…it says the majority of you also agree.

To the point…

If it is historically taboo to make light of or carelessly trivialize the events of the Holocaust, 9/11 or some other tremendous disaster, then why in the world aren’t we bristling at the comparison of BP to Katrina (we…as in African-Americans and non-African-Americans)?

Where is the sanctified space and respect for human tragedy when it comes to Katrina and the disproportionate number of African-Americans it affected and afflicted? The overwhelming majority of those killed, displaced, missing and mistreated in the wake of the disaster were African-American.

School youths are being murdered everyday in Chicago.  They’re murdered on the way to school, at school, after school and for whatever “reasons” it’s unthinkable to discuss these tragedies in the same breath as Columbine.  Why is this?  It seems to be a variation on a theme.  Black suffering is insignificant and been rendered invisible.

But I digress…

Please America, stop equating human tragedy to puffer fish, pelicans and coral reefs. It’s offensive and getting to the point of being unforgivable. The original discussion surrounding the federal lapse in response to the emergency centered on whether race should have been factored in with FEMA’s incompetence. It was a valid question then and is now, as we approach the five-year commemoration of those horrible events. This new comparison to the BP spill only further tilts the scales in one ominous direction.

1836 dead and 135 missing is to Bush what BP is to Obama? Really? Honestly?

“Obama’s Katrina?”

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/05/27/karl-rove-obama-bp-spill-katrina-gulf-salazar-whiney/

http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=129341

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NjVlYjlmZWJhNzdlZWUwMjVlMzZhYzE0ODQzNDg3ZTE=

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-05-27-Spill-poll_N.htm

http://www.businessinsider.com/deepwarter-horizon-obamas-katrina-2010-4

The above links are only a brief sampling of HUNDREDS of similar editorial columns and supposed “news” reports. If President Obama never, ever came forth with his recent “mea culpa”/”my bad” and the oil gushed forth from now

President Obama examines Louisiana shore

until 2014…there are still another 1836 people who will have to die and another 135 who need to go missing before it earns the right to traipse from anyone’s lips as a worthy comparison to Katrina.

It’s beyond offensive and overtly disrespectful to those who died or lost everything (and everyone) nearly five years ago. We can even go one step further… President Obama not only visited the region, but walked the beaches of Louisiana. President Bush did not so much as step off his helicopter…and even if he did, the city was underwater; not a good idea. If you think the water in the gulf is bad right now, imagine what it was like, stagnant and roof-top high in New Orleans, complete with raw sewage and decomposing bodies in the summer sun.

BP Spill Casualty

Pictures of oil-soaked pelicans and ducks just don’t quite compare.

I’ve yet to hear how the BP spill has led to people, majority Black people drowning in their attics. I’ve yet to learn of the BP spill leaving thousands upon thousands of people, majority Black people, homeless, helpless and for many completely hopeless in the process. It’s been five years and the city is still not completely rebuilt. What SHOULD be talked about more is how the BP spill will again help crater the New Orleans maritime commerce. More jobs lost, more businesses to close and more homes (if rebuilt) will be inevitably lost to foreclosure.

Fox News at its BestSomehow, colorful pie charts on Fox News  don’t quite compare.

“Obama’s Katrina”…are you kidding me?

How soon we forget how the comparison of Hurricane Katrina to 9/11 was “offensive” to many people. How soon we forget… Whether such outrage was justified is a different discussion for a different day. Let’s stay on topic. Yet with that in mind, the deafening silence of many leaders in the African-American community and the community in which they serve is both confounding and unacceptable.

Unacceptable, period.

Should the federal government have acted more swiftly in addressing the BP spill? Absolutely. Should blame be laid at the feet of this president? Absolutely, it happened on his watch, he’s captain of the ship and any other metaphor/analogy you wish to input here applies. But when garden-variety Americans, politicians or media pundits wish to elevate the BP spill to Hurricane Katrina status without rightful and swift rebuttal, it is wildly offensive…both the elevation and the silence. It’s wishful thinking to honestly and earnestly compare these disasters without respect to the human impact and an outright diss to the thousands and thousands who died or had to bury their relatives.

You know, people who just “happened” to look like me and my family.

Such comparisons are wholly disingenuous, despicable and reek of desperate politicians and media outlets.

“Obama’s Katrina?” Stop the madness. Stop making the comparison and stop allowing such intellectually dishonest drivel to go forth unchecked.

[MRMOKELLY.COM – COMING IN JUNE!]

The Mo’Kelly Report is an entertainment journal with a political slant; published weekly at The Huffington Post and www.eurweb.com.  It is meant to inform, infuse and incite meaningful discourse…as well as entertain. The Mo’Kelly Report is syndicated by Blogburst. For more Mo’Kelly, http://mrmokelly.com.  Mo’Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary.

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(23) Readers Comments

  1. Mo, well written as always. The loss of human life to the loss of birds there is no comparison.

  2. Actually 11 people were killed by the oil platform explosion, but yes, let's look at the right wing spin. The oil spill is Obama's Katrina. The underwear bomber was Obama's Katrina. H1N1 was Obama's Katrina. Haiti was Obama's Katrina. The GM Bankruptcy was Obama's Katrina. The Ft. Hood shootings were Obama's Katrina. Even the Kentucky ice storms were Obama's Katrina. Hasn't the right wing ever heard the story of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf"? What's almost as bad is that the so-called liberal media seems complicit in this spin.

    I can't tell you how many times in almost 5 years that I've heard conservatives and libertarians yell that Katrina was something that should have been handled by the locals. This in spite of the fact that it was larger than 9/11, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Northridge California earthquake and the San Diego firestorms combined.

    Now these same folks, many led by Rush Limbaugh are saying that the oil spill, which is the fault of a private corporation IS suddenly the responsibility of the Federal Government. How hypocritical can they get? And to think in 2008 how many right wing media members lied that Katrina didn't cause any oil spills and therefore we should be expanding oil drilling in the Gulf.

    Paul Harris
    Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

    • That's what I meant when I say hovering around zero. The spill itself hasn't been responsible for killing anyone. That's like a chain reaction car accident on the freeway. The federal government had no role in the initial incident.

      In Hurricane Katrina, the federal government had a role in the prevention and the subsequent rescue.

      Those 11 deaths (though tragic) are in no way connected to President Obama and that's the point.

  3. 12 days ago, I posted this on my facebook status: Why does James Carville on the BP oil spill sound like Ray Nagin during Hurricane Katrina? Is it REALLY comparable? Can you guess how many responses I received? Two. Now, had I posted some foolishness about Tiny and Toya… I digress. You are absolutely right, Mo. I AM OUTRAGED. I'm a New Orleanian transplanted to Los Angeles post Katrina by choice. Many New Orleanians have been transplanted against their will and cannot return due to lack of affordable housing and economic misfortune. The gross negligence and neglect that occurred during the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina should was inexcusable. But, only we as African-Americans can raise our voices in protest to bring awareness to the tragedies that have involved us and continue to directly affect us, i.e. The Maafa, Civil Rights in America, Hurricane Katrina, etc. WE must say enough.

    The practice of devaluing African-American lives in this country began with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It has often been said that if African-Americans protected the legacy of the Maafa the way Jews protect the legacy of the Holocaust we would garner significantly more respect as a people. This protection begins with our leadership, Mo. The outrage and anger that accompanied the Jena 6 should be afire now in the hearts of African-Americans regarding this ridiculous comparison. 1836 may be the official count, but those of us who experienced firsthand how the Hurricane Katrina tragedy was handled/mishandled know it's more likely that the loss of life equated to 3,000 or more. It's utterly shameful. But, if we don't make a stand, who will?

  4. Loss of life will not be the legacy of the BP spill.

    Livelihoods disrupted for generations and a massive ecological disaster will be the legacy of this spill.

    The shocking inability of our government to deal with a real, modern disaster has been frighteningly revealed.

    As Katrina revealed, it wasn't the first time, and we can be sure it will not be the last time.

  5. Sorry, Mo, this belongs on another discussion. BUt everytime I bring it up, you never follow through.
    http://www.breitbart.tv/more-left-wing-violence-a

    This is a black man attacking peaceful Tea Party protesters.

  6. But, to the point at hand. I think it is a stretch to be upset with calling the oil spill "Obama's Katrina". Ask anyone, and 95% of the respondents know that this is merely a POLITICAL comparson, and that is as far as it was ever intended.

    You are doing mental gymnastics in an attempt to deflect proper criticism being directed at Obama.

    • How am I "deflecting" when I CLEARLY pointed out in the piece that blame should be laid at the foot of the president? Did you not read the piece? Blame is not the issue. It's the attribution of blame to what extent for what type of disaster.

      You can blame Obama for the slow federal response…just don't try to equate the two disasters.

      As for your tea party link…that's anecdotal, not habitual. And therein lies the difference.

  7. I think the larger issue is and always has been: If a white, suburban, middle class section of New Orleans had been ravaged the way the fourth ward was, would the reparations have been the same? Would so many lives have been lost in the first place?

    Remember, these were in many cases the poorest of the poor, with nowhere to go and no way to get there, and they were abandoned by their own government, which was impotent to assist them.

    People died from waiting too long. That's unthinkable. Just unthinkable.

    Would the Rockefellers have been left stranded?

    Indeed, this event will never rise to that level, of lives lost through sheer lack of caring.

    Let's always remember that.

  8. You guys both miss my point, so I'll try again. The only equivalence being made is the POLITICAL fallout from the lack of response. If you can find, say, 5 references to this phrase being used in any other way, then I'll agree with you.

    That you both choose to interpret the phrase as being something other than a reference to the political fallout says more about how you WANT to perceive the phrase than anything else.

    With respect to the Tea Party video, we do not actually know whether it is anecdotal or habitual. It's the only video I've posted. You post a few articles and assign the word "habitual". You also did not respond to the Tea Party video in which people confronted a racist and told him to leave. Again, it's how you choose to view the issue.

  9. Do you still consider the violence shown by anti-Tea Party/GOP protesters to be anecdotal? Note there are more than a few black faces in these crowds. Oh, and I see SEIU thugs at them, also.
    http://www.varight.com/news/shocking-video-harry-
    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/seton-motley/2010/04
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AteV2L9pc-U

    I could go on and on, but you get the point. Let me remind you also that your photos were of idiots holding signs. These videos were of actual violence.

  10. Jack,

    It's you who misses the point.

    Bush dawdled and people died.

    No comparison.

    • To call it "Obama's Katrina" is to equivocate the two Jack. Be it for "political" reasons, real or imagined…it's an inaccurate and inappropriate juxtaposition.

  11. ("Equate")

  12. What are you guys talking about? There is no comparison — as far as the loss of life.

    But YOU are arbitrarily assigning an interpretation of what OTHER people say.

    The oil spill is Obama's Katrina with respect to the political fallout.

    The oil spill is not Obama's Katrina with respect to loss of life. That comparison is certainly inappropriate and inaccurate.

  13. Jack,

    I do think Obama is vulnerable in certain ways, but there is no escaping that the gross insensitivity in comparing the govt response to the oil spill with pathetically inadequate response to Katrina (those lives were lost AFTER the storm hit, not during it) will backfire against those who use it.

    "Obama's Katrina!"

    "Oh, really? How many people did Obama's negligence kill?"

    Boom.

    It will backfire.

    Now, if people want to get away from inflammatory rhetoric which could blow up in their faces, meaning they stop using that reference, they will be left with some red meat:

    Obama new going in the MMS was a bastion of cronyism, completely flipped on its head, and campaigned on a promise to clean it up.

    He took way, way too long. The Deepwater Horizon permit was approved on his watch even though the list of BPs failures to comply with safety standards was far longer than everybody else combined.

    He was in charge when the MMS allowed BP to take shortcuts and delay compliance.

    As more and more brown goo washes up on shorelines all summer and into the fall, Obama will be campaigning against his own failure to address a shocking failure of government oversight about which he was undeniably aware for over a year.

    And the defense that "you can't do everything at once" will fall flat. His administration did in fact try to do everything at once, which means that their eyes and hands were in too many places, instead of where they should have been: addressing security and safety issues first and foremost.

    Obama's decision to delay reforms in MMS and in border control will become very large issues in the fall and in 2012 as well.

    Did he do enough to keep us safe?

    He did not. He will not be able to duck that.

    • Jack,

      You can't mention "Katrina" in terms of it being a "disaster" and separate/parse out the loss of life. In other words, the BP Spill as a political chess piece is trying to ride the coattails of Katrina. It does the BP spill "a favor" if you will, with any type of comparison. The power and effect of BP (a foreign company no less) on this nation is nothing even close to what Katrina has meant.

      Yes, we all see the political gamesmanship here, but that doesn't make it any less offensive and inaccurate in the process.

  14. You know what this feels like, Mo? It goes back to some other discussion we had — I can't recall which — where the language that gets used in a certain circumstance is interpreted in different ways by different people.

    It's like that comment that someone made about Michelle Obama looking like a gorilla. Okay, it's a nasty thing to say. Rude and disrespectful to boot, particularly of the First Lady. The point was: she's ugly and/or she's making a funny face and looks like a gorilla.

    But some folks insisted that the comment was racist. Why? Because African-Americans used to be referred to as monkeys.

    The way I saw that whole thing was, as we've said many times here, we can never know what was in the person's heart and if they are racist. However, those that choose to see racism in the comment will see it — even though it's an entire step removed from the more likely intent.

    Same thing here. Those who want to claim the definition of a phrase — to capture a piece of language to be interpreted according to THEIR will — want the phrase to refer to what they want it to refer to.

    Those of us who think it's a big mental leap to go that direction believe the original intent of the phrase referred solely to the political fallout, not the facts.

  15. Jack,

    Why is it so difficult for you to grasp that Morris understands how/why th phrase is being used, and is dismantling that foolish attempt at "logic."

    You seem to think it matters that the right is not trying to address the BP spill in terms of loss of life, but in terms of lack of govt response. Morris understands that this is the intent of the right, and he is pointing out that it is severely flawed.

    The right will have to deal with the disrespect this shows to the families of the dead, and it will only serve to remind the country that their president let them die.

  16. Is it only the Right that is using the term?

    Or is it a fair term to use when discussing political fallout, regardless of political affiliation?

    Separate note. For anyone who feels Bill O'Reilly is not fair:
    http://www.billoreilly.com/column;jsessionid=5E48

    • No, it's not only the right that's using the term. But in your parsing of the issue making the "political" argument…you prove my point. The memory of Katrina will be floating bodies. The memory of BP will be floating oil-soaked pelicans. Making "political" arguments such as that or using the memory of Katrina for political gain is quite offensive. Some things should (and are) above political misuse. This should be one of them.

      And on your side note…I would say Bill O'Reilly has more intellectual honesty than the likes of Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. Fair is truly a stretch. Fair is to say that he is balanced in his journalism. He is anything but that. He can be "fair" on an issue here and there, but any program which encourages ambush "journalism" is anything but "fair" by definition.

      So he didn't slam Obama on this issue…like I said, he's more intellectually honest on an issue here or there. But that doesn't change the body of his work.

      He also took President Bush to task for not finding any WMDs and I applauded him for that. But by no means is Bill O'Reilly "fair."

      He has too much already in the can to dismiss that argument. Anything you are "on occasion" only means you're not that at all.

      A person who works hard "on occasion" is not a hard worker. A person who is on-time "on occasion" is not akin to being a punctual person.

      An arch conservative who on occasion can be reasonable and intellectually honest doesn't make him "fair."

  17. Jack,

    I think that the context here is that the right is trying to do to Obama what Katrina did to Bush, because what Katrina did to Bush was to pound him in the mid-terms of 2006.

    The right is trying to pound the Dems. And let me say again, they could succeed if they can find rhetoric which is less offensive and which leaves them so open to disgusted recoil.

    They have a few months left to get the language correct.

    And when they do, Obama will be red meat. He is in big, big trouble on this issue, not least because the visuals will keep getting more horrible all summer long and into the fall.

    All during campaign season.

    If the right has enough brains, they'll simply back off and let the pictures tell the story.

  18. With Ms. Thomas, the situation was different. The people of Israel went to that regin for refuge. They multiplied and took over. They have no interest in working or living with the people that open their land to them, when the United States and other Countries refused.

    When I hear people tell black people they need to go back to Africa, there is a problem. Because we did not chose to come here nor did they have to find a place to put us. They stole us for cheap labor, and that was not the situation with the Jews.

    I believe if Israel is going to stay in that region they need to learn how to work and live with the people of the region.

    I read today on Huffington Post, that now they are mad because their Supreme Court has ruled to integrate the schools and they don't want their children to study with the Mideastern or African students.

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