When we were leaving for Lassen last week, one of the last news items I noticed
was that the levees keeping water out of New Orleans were starting to give way.
While we were camping the city of New Orleans filled up with water, turning something
nasty but containable into a certified national disaster the likes of which the
country has never seen, not even on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

As the Led Zeppelin song went, “when the levee breaks, got noplace to stay.”

Or hide, in the case of the Bush administration, which is looking like the
gang that couldn’t shoot straight. But you know what? The Bush gang did a fine
job of cleaning up Florida — you know, that key state full of swing voters
— in an election year when three hurricanes struck in a single summer.

But no levees gave way, leaving, say, Miami or Tampa under water.

Since Bush is the boss of the whole country, he’s got to take his lumps on
this one. Disaster happens on your watch, the response is a national shame,
you have to face up.

Truth is, though, that the your everyday cynical political calculation is the
real culprit here. What happened last week was that Bush & Co. knew from the
get-go that they had few friends in a 60-percent-black city like New Orleans.
They were in no hurry to help because they had no votes to gain, and they gambled
that Katrina would be a three-day story that disappeared once the waters began
to recede.

Only the waters didn’t recede after three days. They kept rising. Once the
Bush gang knew they had a genuine 9/11-style catastrophe on their hands, they
had to do something about it. But by then the city and all its infrastructure
was ruined. So it took a few more days to get military boots on the ground to
restore order and usher in relief supplies. Add it up and you’ve got thousands
of people suffering for a week with no electricity, no fresh water and only
whatever food they could scrounge or steal.

The Bush people made a similar calculation during the California energy crisis
of a few years ago. Nothing was done to intervene when canny energy speculators
were manipulating the state’s energy market and costing its taxpayers billions
of dollars and forcing rolling blackouts during the hottest days of the summer.

Why didn’t Bush act? Because he had nothing to gain in helping a state that
didn’t help him get elected. If the California equivalent of the levees giving
way — a devastating earthquake — had happened during the electricity crisis,
Bush would’ve been in the same jam he’s in today. He and his people rolled the
dice and lucked out. And guess what: California voted for a Democrat in the
next election, just as his people predicted.

You hate to think of politicians making these “what’s-in-it-for-me” calculations
when thousands of lives are at stake, when a jewel of a city has been turned
into a steaming toilet bowl. You hate to see people pointing fingers when they
oughta be lending a hand.

But this is how the world works and, I suspect, always has.

And with that thought, I’m leaving for Yosemite National Park, to walk in the
woods and gawk at big trees and amazing rocks, which always seem to avoid getting
themselves into these predicaments.