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Comments on The grim lessons of Katrina by Walter Ellis

What a ridiculous negative article. We get hit by a level 5 hurricane. What do you know? There's death and destruction. Mr Ellis notes the fact that there is a black underclass in New Orleans, which has been there for 200 years, and in other major American cities as well, which have been there for 150 years. If this is a measure of our inherent racialism what does he say about the growing black middle and upper class, the phenomenon of the browning of American society, the tremendous influx of Hispanics and Asians, all attracted by the relative political and economic and social freedom which exists in this country more than any other major country in the world, including his beloved Europe.

Our economy has taken more hits than a side show shooting gallery but it keeps chugging along with, yes, 5% unemployment which Mr Ellis seems to make out to be something negative. Our poor are not poor because of lack of opportunity, but because of drug and alcohol abuse, destruction of social and family structure encouraged by generations of liberal welfarism, government public schools held back by teacher's unions, and, yes, the special American culture of individualism and self-reliance which leaves behind those who for one reason or another are indolent or unmotivated.

America's socioeconomic culture is one of great flux. Many of our poor rise up and many of our wealthy drop down. That's the downside of economic freedom. That's our system and that's the way the majority of us like it. New Orleans and Louisiana have had notoriously corrupt governments for many years and it showed in their response to the hurricane. The eye of the hurricane, unlike that of the media, was not focused merely on New Orleans and Mr Ellis should look at the strength and aptitude, as well as the generosity, manifested by residents of neighboring states. I suggest that he take a second look at how the victims of the storm are being taken care of, the efficient work that is ongoing and which will be continuing in restoring the infrastructure and habitation of that area. He should look also at the activity of private organizations in contributing to the recovery. Mr Ellis appears ready to write an American sequel to Edward Gibbon but I think he may be a bit premature. He may have to wait a few hundred more years.

Anthony Perry

How stupid to ask for a Yes/No answer. The tragedy does appear to have shown up limitations of both the current American government and some aspects of the US "way of life." It may also have inadvertently shown us why the Iraq invasion - not a good idea in the first place - was turned into a rolling disaster by the incompetence of US administration (Bremer and Rumsfeld’s finest hours - NOT) and the heavy-handed way in which the US military went about what it has chosen to believe is its business. As to who could do better, it is unfair to pick on one possible candidate who may lack the talents when there are probably so many more worthy of a suitable put-down. And I do suspect that Bubba would have done a great deal better since your columnist appears to ask.

Alan Cook

We think that this article is simply brilliant! It should be read by every American but, unfortunately, freedom of the press only exists in England and in any case many Americans-- Bushites-- are like ostriches!

Philip and Nancy Jardim

Leave it to a smug Brit to come up with such a dire assessment of the US! Our great unemployment (lowest in the Western World), the "quagmire" of Iraq (we have only just begun to clean up the terrorists' retreats), the great economic slump (about time everyone recognized the new economic times confronting everyone everywhere!), the poor hispanics (among the fastest growing & increasingly successful of our immigrant groups - including the gazillion illegals!), and the vaguely socialist dictum against the (unearned?) wealth of the wealthy. Give me a break! Your correspondent is living in a great city (NYC), but totally off-kilter in his perception of the rest of the country (thanks to his armchair liberal environment along the Hudson...). As an American who has also experienced economic downturn, I still know that this country - with all the economic & educational opportunities that abound here & continue to draw hard-working new arrivals from around the globe every minute of the day! - is a great & strong & vibrant entity. But no one is going to hand it to you on a platter. Now, more than ever before, there are no guarantees and one has to work harder than ever. But there are still more opportunities for success here than probably any country on Planet Earth - including our great old mother country, England. (Hey, guys, thanks for the great language, the sensible common law - and those great English idealists of the 17th & 18th Century who paved the way for our own great republic! How can we ever thank you enough?)

Joy D. Brower
California (still one of Arnold's staunch supporters.)

Where do we go to surrender?

John J. Darlington, Jr.

I guess I hadn't noticed that the sky had fallen on the USA!

No, I am not in denial: there are many problems but we will prevail because none of the problems are insoluble or really that big to begin with. What a silly, hysterical article !

Frank E. Ellsworth

An initial assumption made by the author is completely wrong. There has been no "tradition" of letting the state and local governments handle emergency relief. Primary responsibility for relief IS that of the local and state governments, by law. The Federal government cannot move into a state and control the National Guard (which is controlled by each State Govenor) without the State Governor's permission. I find it interesting, when reading comments from outside the US, how it is assumed that the US Federal Government is responsible for everything in the US. We are a Federation of States, after all, and it has been our "tradition" that local and state Government controls most of what goes on in the state; roads, education, emergency relief, fire and police protection, National Guard, welfare--all the responsibility of the State and localities. If one considers this in relation to the confused response to Katrina in New Orleans, and then does so in relation to the much more organized responses in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, one will begin to understand the dynamics of what happened during the response. This does not excuse the Federal Government and FEMA for what could have been a stronger initial response, I believe. But the coordination of first responders in four large cities, four states, as well as the governing towns, counties and parishes, is a Herculean task. This is where FEMA was not as prepared as should be the case. The plans put no one "in charge", but rather there appeared conflicting power groups vying to control efforts especially in Louisiana, to the detriment of New Orleans. This has to be fixed before another disaster of the scale of Katrina occurs.

Michael Crane
Chicago, Illinois, USA

But for your concluding paragraph, I would have voted "agree". I thought the article was perceptive, objective (why I read British periodicals, particularly about American issues) and pulled no punches. The Hillary comment was gratuitous, and after a fine analysis of the American condition, reduced the value of the article to either the cute or the puerile.

William Batman

This article is a very silly rant. Why on earth did you publish it?

Turner Rylands

Well now both sides of the Atlantic are reaping the bitter harvest of politically correct multi-culturalism and it sucks, doesn't it?

Gregory Mcclure

Walter Ellis is somewhat cognitively challenged in the surmises he makes in his article:

1. "Hurricane Katrina was the test of that doctrine, and by any reasonable reckoning the administration failed the test." There is not doctrine tha t the Feds are the first responders. State & local governments make the plans, practice the plans and implement the plans. If the State and local politicians don't know the plans, are unable to understand and prioritize the plans or incapable of understanding complex documents, the fault is theirs and the people that elected them.

2. "provoking a deadly response from the tardy National Guard." The National Guard, citizen soldiers, is at the command of the Governor. Did she send them in soon enough or was she in her room crying?

3."Shops and stores became open invitations to people who had struggled for years and now found themselves at the mercy of the elements, abandoned and forgotten by the authorities." Really, go to any downtown in the world, at night, the shops are closed. Is this an open invitation? The thieves were/are scumbags, abandoned and/or joined by the New Orleans Police in their orgy of crime.

4."For Americans outside the stricken area, it was as if the slimy underside of their national life and character had suddenly been exposed." My life and character resemble nothing about the tragedy in New Orleans; the only thing exposed is the corruption, cognitively challenged leaders and electorate and moral degradation of New Orleans.

5. "The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened to almost Third World dimensions over the past 30 years." Really, what's the gap between $22K and say, the poor in any African, Chinese, Russian, Palestinian, Philippine, Guatemalan, Mexico Mexican country? Life is good in the USA, accurately compared to the majority of the countries in the World.

6. "while many Hispanics barely scrape a living" I wager this clown doesn't know one Hispanic. My Hispanic mailman, policeman, Director of Utilities, restaurant owner, insurance man are all part of the American character, are having as hard a time as any of the rest of us, but earning more than $1, for a dark to dark workday, working in any country south of our border.

7. "for every two additional cents paid to low-paid workers, 50 cents extra went to top earners" Hmm, Ellis may have something here. Let's start addressing this issue by hanging a few corporate scumbags. I cannot agree with astronomical sums paid to the elites of this country, but they control the process, at this time.

8. "Positive discrimination may be on the way out... Their schools had prepared them for a lifetime of welfare dependency and petty crime, not study. White trailer trash fared little better. They weren’t even allowed to kick blacks around any more. And Hispanics? Well, they were the people who cut your grass, picked your oranges or delivered your groceries." What a crock! Public schools are free, in what other countries is this so? Learning is not, it requires work. When I was a substitute teacher I witnessed black children that asked questions in class, did their homework, spoke with other races, being despised by black scumbags for "acting white". Recent Mexican immigrants start in the low paying jobs but do not stay there long if they are hard workers and learn English at the multitude of Free ESL classes available. I represent the white trailer trash Ellis denigrates; my first job, as a representative of white trailer trash, was delivering grocery circulars door to door, after school, at age 8. Several years later I did however manage to get a college education courtesy of Uncle Sam. It only cost me 4 years of my life, voluntarily of course. Us poor downtrodden only-making-22k-a-year white trailer trash that don't have blacks to kick around anymore, have to join America's armed forces to get our ass kicking done and money so we can go to skoool!

9."members of the Black Caucus....have so far been muted in their criticism... They appear to believe that nothing can be done until the Republican establishment runs out of steam and collapses of exhaustion and its own ineptitude" They are muted in their criticism because those to blame are black, all entitlement programs have been increased since Bush took office and Ellis should have deleted the word Republican because bureaucrats have no party affiliation.

10. "Liberalism has come to mean little more, in ideological terms, than tolerance of gays, acceptance (up to a point) of abortion and a more relaxed attitude towards religion and the death penalty". Ellis must be talking about his liberal mother here. Leftist, Liberal Democrats, aka, Kennedy, Clinton, Schemer, Dean, Kerry, embrace sodomites, have no qualms about sucking the brains out of a child's head inside a mothers womb, despise religion and would pardon Charles Hinkley. Paleeesse!

11."The American Right, meanwhile, is lost in denial" Excuse me. The Establishment Right Wing Elites may be lost in denial, I am not, nor are my compadres that are RED.

12."When I lived in rural Connecticut, I was struck by how little ordinary Americans knew about what was happening in the world." Experience living in rural Connecticut as a basis for understanding America is about as useful as teats on a boar hog. The entire state of Connecticut would fit in a Texas county.

13."(i.e., not with their tails between their legs)." I'd be careful where I said such things as this, wouldn't say it in my trailer trash neighborhood. The soldiers won't fail, the Establishment Elites may fail the soldiers and have failed and could fail again.

Greg Hall
Dallas, Texas

China, India and other Asian Tigers are countries in transition from agricultural societies to industrial societies while developed countries are in transition from industrial societies to scientific and technological societies. One makes the other possible but in the process there are winners and losers in both.

Unfortunately political and economic systems worldwide do not reflect or adopt (except on the surface) developments in industry science and technology. Perhaps this will never happen given the fundamental nature of our political and economic models which have not evolved in any material sense since the days of Dickens and Shakespeare: it is a case of the same tune called "our values" now set to seductive modern music. The result is New Orleans and the mess in Asia on Boxing Day.

We had ample of warning of both disasters and the resources to mitigate the worst consequences but for political reasons those who could and should have done something failed so to do. We all know that it is cost effective in terms of human life and misery and any other measure one may apply to predict or anticipate the consequences of disasters such as these and to put in place simple plans and systems to cope, rather than to deal with the aftermath.

Our leaders are traditional political hacks who lack the vision and leadership to use industrial, scientific and technological resources and methodology to do so. There will always be another New Orleans just around the corner for so long as the mindset of our leaders is purely political.

Robert Peterson

The only temptation to which Mr. Ellis succumbs is to once again scratch his frequent itch to pummel the US, and in particular Pres. Bush and the conservatives. It is really bothersome that a person with his background and privileged opportunity to observe is so misinformed about the United States. Or worse, he is fully informed and ignores the facts in order to get in his scratching. Or, perhaps he isn't ignorant, nor dishonest; maybe he is just another over-educated but morally vacuous boob! He certainly grasped far less understanding about the American character during his residence in rural Connecticut than I did about the British during my nearly four years in Berkshire.

Thomas Donahue

Who IS Walter Ellis? Where does he get the info that a 2004 act usurps state and local responsibilities? His article, slickly and seductively well written, takes little account of the facts as we try to know them. Like too many of your political contributors, he is an accomplished wordsmith and little else. Whippersnappers!

Anne Mansfield

Walter Ellis covers some significant ground by highlighting the economic, social and political weaknesses of the United States, the role of Katrina in exposing them for consideration, and the (a few even just) criticisms levelled against the Bush Administration. Ellis' concentration on the decline of civic responsibility and the failure of vision across the political spectrum demonstrate that he is paying closer attention than most observers. These are concerns of other Western countries also, and they are deeper and more serious matters than those which usually concern the mainstream American commentariat. On the more mundane side, Ellis is similarly correct to note the drawbacks of the post-911 vision of federalized disaster response. This seemed logical, insofar as any disaster could threaten national integrity and security, but at least when the cause was known well in advance to not be terrorism or military attack, it was a foolish posture. It stretches federal planning and operational resources beyond reasonable limits and imposes unrealistic time demands, not to mention exacerbating the dependent mentality of poorly run state and local governments. We are only now learning of the gross irresponsibility of the latter, to whom most blame properly belongs but which will probably go unreconstructed in the end. Americans would be better served if the latter could be trained to stand up to their duties, as they will always be closer to the scene. Federal response can always come, as the nature of a problem is clarified. Even so, I wonder that Ellis might be succumbing to the state of existential panic now evident among some pundits. A proper attention to even the largest problems need not be propelled by a surge in civilizational defeatism.

It should be possible to examine and rectify the problems of government planning and response without the cries of alarm that such problems could even arise in our comfortable societal bubbles, apparently thought to stand outside both nature and history. We live in the most comfortable of human societies in the age of greatest human ease to date, and our attitudes show it. Such disasters will happen. Governments will not always respond flawlessly. Federal response in 4-5 days to a disaster of this scale could perhaps be improved, but it is not so bad that American civilization should now be considered akin to the last days of Rome. If Louisiana and New Orleans were prepared, even with their limited resources, the absence of federal aid would not have been so keenly felt.

Instead we saw (some) policemen deserting their duties, and school buses left fuelled and idle that could have evacuated thousands on the Sunday or Monday, not to mention a panicked mayor and weeping governor. Government, and especially federal government, has responsibilities to fulfill but it is not mother to every citizen. Nor, despite the modern sensibilities of many (I live in Canada), should it ever become so. A citizen has some responsibilities to assess the circumstances of his home and life, and to make due preparations. Five days' water and dry food is cheap enough in America. And plenty more could have decamped than did so, car or no.

And so we come to the 'seedy underbelly' of American urban society, which indeed was displayed in its full glory in New Orleans. Yet Katrina showed us nothing we did not already know about that subject, and nothing not entirely predictable of a teeming city in the midst of chaos. Human nature will not be denied, and both the good and the bad will be revealed in any crisis. This, too, is cause for shock only if one lives in a bubble. Americans can address these urban problems more effectively than they have done, but only if they keep their heads. New Orleans has not exposed something hitherto unknown, nor tarnished the good things about American society, nor marked an end to some idyllic golden age. America is part of the real world, and these things exist in the world. They will continue to exist even if still more money is spent, even under better economic circumstances, and even if the moral and mental squalor of the true underclass is actually addressed. Good luck waiting for American urban advocates to heed the advice of a Theodore Dalrymple.

In the end, we do not know what kind or how much of a political reformation will come. It has often followed disasters in the American past. When these shocks hit the system, they sometimes elevate one party over the other. Often they smash one party or both, or elevate a new ideological tendency within one of the parties which proceeds to dominate the age. This one is still murky. Both parties lack vision, though Ellis is correct in noting that the Democrats seem farthest from one. That could change if the GOP is thrust from power and cast adrift. They have forgotten how to be an opposition, driven by ideas. Both parties ought to carry a mighty load of blame from Katrina, though the Democrats are spinning the story hard and fast.

In the end the new synthesis may be for 'the smack of firm government' drawing on the traditions of firmness in both parties. Which party will actually reach for it is another matter. Both Liberals and Conservatives have bits of the necessary ideology, but it is not the kind of centrism that politicians and media types have been seeking since 1992, one of cheap low-tax government, yet focused on social liberalism at home and unconcerned with moral matters. Rather it will be a mirror image. And it is not clear that it will give up what Mr. Pat Buchanan so disingenuously calls 'the empire'.

It will probably mean a stronger federal government, even if this misses the point on disaster response. Sometimes the zeitgeist will not yield to logic. There will be more emphasis on infrastructure, including its security implications (then again, we heard that after 911). That could be captured by either party. There will be more focus on education, which sounds Democratic until one thinks of the moral and national security aspects, both past concerns of the GOP, and indeed of President Bush's overdone focus on education spending. The government may embrace universal health care, a probably Democratic win but conservatives could also embrace the concession within a larger strategy.

There will also be more emphasis on security, law and order, national unity and moral and civic education. It is hard to find a liberal able to credibly lead, or even speak, on these, but one never knows. Chances are that the liberal shield protecting many social pathologies will be swept aside. Ironically, America may be headed back to the union of the welfare and national-security states seen from the Roosevelt to the Nixon eras, against which the left and right alike once rebelled. The memory of wartime achievement still has power over many minds, and still implies efficiency.

I only hope that people remember the prodigious waste and mindless floundering that actually went on, and wonder whether the world of today can actually be navigated by the managerial class even half as well as was done then. If the Democrats, or any similar party, reach their own new synthesis first, Americans will be told to expect a new Camelot, and will be in for a horrible mess in the spirit of Lyndon Johnson. Huge sums will be wasted, the true pathologies of society will go unanswered, and any security threat will result in dreadful overeaction unmindful of liberty. A bit like the trajectory of Blairism. Conservatives have already travelled a long way from "limited government" to "national greatness", and this is a journey none of us should look on with undiluted satisfaction. But it may have prepared them for this, if they are willing to see it and make the needed sacrifices. Allowing for a few concessions, what is needed really is more of a conservative than a liberal vision. Perhaps the Republicans could create a new synthesis around the memory of Alexander Hamilton, seasoned with some Teddy Roosevelt (extreme care in selection required) and a strong dose of religion. I trust that if they succeed, they will remember that this new order is the counsel of political and national necessity, and they need still to find a philosophical place for both the responsibility and the liberty of the free citizen. I would hate to hear an American president suggest in public that safety is the first human right.

Graham Barnes
Ottawa, Canada

Comments on The cowardice of the BBC by Rod Liddle

Mr. Humphrys is quite right to engender within all who will listen a cynical view towards politicians, particularly those who would seek his downfall. as those that choose not to exercise their franchise by not registering to vote, should be highly suspicious of the sincerity of all politicians, whatever their party. It is the likes of Messrs. Humphrys and Paxman that may help us avoid the one-party totalitarian state that New Labour is determined to impress upon us.

Tony Henton

Who cares? What was it about a point of precedence between a louse and a flea? Damn the BBC, and damn the government.

Graham Asher

I thought the article very good indeed. We do need to slate the cowards of the BBC and also it would be lovely to see that pratt Blair in the lions’ den. I would also like to see the other pratt Straw ripped apart as well.

Peter Jones

Comments on Turkey must relent

You write: “Over the past years this magazine has been a staunch defender of Turkey and its right to join the European Union...”

Why? In 1974, former Algerian President Houari Boumedienne said in a speech at the U.N.: “One day millions of men will leave the southern hemisphere to go to the northern hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.” In other words, says Fallaci, what Islamic armies have not been able to do with force in more than 1,000 years can be achieved in less than a century through high birth rates. Why are you so insouciant about the demise of Christendom? Are you not European?

Peter Acton

Turkey is not in any sense a European nation, neither geographically, nor racially, nor religiously, nor culturally. Everyone knows that. If there is anything at all which unites Europeans throughout history, indeed, to my mind, almost the only common constant throughout Europe’s history, if the idea of Europe means anything at all (and I largely find it meaningless), is a common dislike distrust and centuries of conflict against the Turks, and rightly so. From the French Germans and Italians in the Crusades, to the Spanish at Lepanto, the Austrians and Jan Sobieski’s Poles at the gates of Vienna, and the British Empire’s liberation of Jerusalem in 1917,we have all fought against the Turkish threat to Europe. And, as your article makes painfully clear, materialistic and secular Muslim state it may be, but for all that, it still falls woefully short of anyone’s idea of a European society - OK the beach resorts and big cities might look European, but go into the hinterland and it is obvious the overwhelming culture is totally alien. Its legal system, corruption, denial of its history, religion and culture are not European at all.

On a practical level, do we really want the largest country in the EU to be Turkey? A country with a terribly low GDP per person, which would make current budgetary problems and agricultural bias look like a kids’ tea party ? Do we want to grant automatic rights to 70 million mainly impoverished people to come to any EU country and qualify for benefits etc?

So there are historical, geographical, cultural, logical, religious, democratic, practical and monetary reasons for laughing Turkey’s application out of court. Why on earth is the Spectator supporting it? Could it be political correctness? Just to bolster one version of Islam vs the other lot? The Turks have plenty of good and own reasons not to go down the path of fundamentalism, and I think that their own separate identity as a proud nation different from their Arab neighbours is not in jeopardy if they don’t enter the EU, and I think it patronising to them to imply it.

The EU may be a disreputable organisation, but it is undeniably important and membership of it should be treated with some seriousness, even more so when it would be clearly against Britain’s interests - the last thing we need is another overpopulated impoverished Mediterranean country with a bureaucratic structure and its hand out if we are to see any chance of reforming the EU - let alone one which has only shared our basic values for, well, all of 10 minutes! And perhaps we should start getting honest with the Turks too - co-operation agreements, trade and customs agreements fine, they can even join the euro if they are foolish enough to want to, but we should make it clear to them that they simply do not qualify for full membership, not now, not ever !

Let them take the shock and get over it - I am sure they are big enough - rather than leave them dangling on a half-promise as at present. I mean if the Turks can qualify for the EU, where are you going to draw the line? China? Let’s face it, Canada, Australia and Israel are more European than Turkey, and no one argues for their entry!?

Mark Solomon

This author is to be praised; we have articles on the Sassoun Massacres of 1876, in my local library’s press records, and the lies and false promises of the pasha; we also have a grim part in the treatment of the Armenian Turks. We failed to protect them; we had despatches coming from the European Consulates which were suppressed. Turkey at that time did away with its Christian community who were living peacefully and productively. The Turkish Muslims were jealous and that was all that was needed for the expulsion and death of two million people. The pasha at the time said “We have no use for these people nor will we ever have a need to live with them”.

You mentioned the Irish question, where no apology was given for the incompetent government which ruled Ireland. Well Irish people will tell you to stick your apology “you know where”, the difference is that they still inhabit their land; Turkey should be made to retract its words about needing Christians and to apologise for genocide.

James Kennedy

I think Boris Johnson has taken leave of his senses. Have we not got enough problems with Muslims throughout Europe without releasing the floodgates? A country that starts to operate according to basic principles of human decency and justice only in order to be admitted to a club where it will receive huge financial hand-outs is not a country I want the UK to have anything to do with. What’s going on?

Dr Derek Sinclair

Comments on Writing God off by Theo Hobson

While an insightful article, most of the writers you name are not widely read outside of England. In most literary circles (US, Asia, the Continent, Latin America, Africa), there is a plurality of views towards religion. British atheism has its roots in early twentieth century British philosophy, most famously Russel, who, like so many British intellectuals, is rarely read outside of Britain now, although Russel is at least always noted.

What this article really proves is just how provincial English intellectual life is. It is feeble. It is dominated by two universities who live in the past and are locked into an incestuous relationship with a handful of mediocre public schools.

Benjamin de Lee

Theo Hobson takes all the usual “religious” stances to keep the atheist quiet - firstly assuming that atheists want to replace religion with something else, i.e. literature. Not so buddy.

We don’t say we have any answers - I just think we’re over-developed (well, very slightly) animals. We eat, we fight, we fornicate. Next tactic is that because religious mumbo jumbo defies common sense, we are then berated for “intellectual snobbery”! Trying to talk down to religious fanatics.

Look, to many ordinary, non-literary types, adhering to the teachings of organized churches is tantamount to listening to the local wizard. As far as I am concerned the prophets probably had a touch of epilepsy or schizophrenia and heard a voice or two in the desert... maybe they didn’t even exist. I mean I can change a line of information from now until when I see my buddy - so I can’t imagine what 100 years could do, especially when there was no writing. And if there was one God why didn’t he send down the same message all over. And why on earth was his first instruction to “Worship no other God before me!” That sounds like some Labour party hack to me.

In fact, religion has a lot in common with politics, just infused with an immutable God to sew things up. I could drone on for ever - but one last question, why on earth was that Pope dressed up like some medieval monk, with that cap and long wizard-like cape? Can’t they keep the aura over the ordinary folk without those get-ups?

Mary Kapadia

Outsiders looking in just don’t get it.d qualified? Only the atheists will enjoy their denial, and believers what they value.

Joseph Lickwar