Come Hell Or High Water, By Michael Eric Dyson

How Hurricane Katrina exposed the darkness at the heart of America
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The Bush administration's lethargic and inept response to Hurricane Katrina underscored the President's general incompetence. However, when Kanye West declared that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on a live telethon, he raised the stakes. It is a moment that Michael Eric Dyson compares with Muhammad Ali's "No Vietcong ever called me nigger."

Dyson leaves no stone unturned as he breaks down what went wrong after Katrina. He demonstrates how the lack of a punctual response may not have been entirely due to blatant racism. As poor blacks have never voted for Bush, and formed the majority affected, he did not have to act out of self-interest.

Exhibit A is the response to Hurricanes Charley and Frances, which in 2004 hit Florida - a state filled with rich Republicans - with far less force. Bush personally delivered relief checks and visited victims four times in six weeks.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), Michael Brown, was made a scapegoat by the government despite being praised by local officials. Furthermore, as Dyson points out, were it not for Bush's chronic cronyism Brown would never have been appointed. In fact, five of the top eight Fema officials had little or no experience in disaster management.

Worse than their sluggish reaction, however, was the fact that Fema actually refused help. The USS Bataan had 600 hospital beds, plus food and water that was never used. None of its 1,200 sailors present on the Gulf Coast was permitted to go ashore.

West also criticised the media for deciding that the difference between looting and finding food was only skin deep. Exacerbating this were the vastly exaggerated reports of trouble within the Superdome. America's black elite, who remembered their poorer counterparts after years of indifference, also receive criticism, as do the public for acting surprised by the poverty laid bare by the hurricane.

The response of high-profile hip-hop figures put others to shame: David Banner's Heal The Hood benefit concert is a prominent example. Hip-hop's disgust was further illustrated when Crescent City rapper Juvenile recently went straight to No 1 with an album heavily critical of the government.

Whether the government response to Katrina will become as much of an albatross as the war in Iraq remains to be seen. Books like this will certainly help to tip the balance.

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