When the levee breaks

Think of everything this country has done over the past four years in the name of fighting terrorism — the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc., etc. Americans have shrugged at some of it, eagerly embraced the rest. Why? Because of our collective inchoate fear of another catastrophic attack…an attack which only in the wildest neocon paranoid wet dream would inflict more damage than Hurricane Katrina actually has inflicted.

We’ve been told for four years that we’re at war to preserve our freedom, our way of life, our very civilization.

Well, this is in no way meant to downplay the suffering along the Gulf Coast tonight, or the immensity of this tragedy — but this is what we’ve been afraid of for the past four years, this level of destruction.

This is bad, really bad, probably much worse than we know — but civilization itself is not at risk.

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I’m not saying we should just roll over and let The Terrorists run willy nilly through the streets tossing dirty bombs every which way with gleeful abandon. I’m saying that even in a fairly worst-case scenario, another major terrorist attack which manages to inflict anything close to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina — even then, the the only real danger to our way of life, to democracy itself, comes from our own leaders deciding that a free society is just way too much damn trouble.

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It’s not the damage done to us, by whatever means — we can pick ourselves up and mourn our dead and rebuild. It’s the damage we do to ourselves that may be irreparable.

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Having said that…this really has been a disaster unfolding in slow motion. I was busy last week when Katrina first started making the news, and didn’t pay a lot of attention. The catastrophic warnings on Sunday finally made me sit up and take notice — but then on Monday, we were told that New Orleans had dodged the bullet. And then the water started pouring in. And now — I think we’re only starting to grasp the immensity of this. An entire major American city has been evacuated, and isn’t slated to have power or basic necessities for months. That’s a half million people homeless tonight, without even taking into account the rest of the coast. Add in the damage to the oil refineries, and I can’t even begin to imagine what the cumulative effect of all this will be on an already-shaky economy — but if I had to guess I’d say that that economy is about to take a nose dive straight into the crapper. And that would be the good scenario.