Why I Like Michael Graham

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Man bites hurricane
By Michael Graham

They were poor. They lived in homes that, to some Americans, would appear no more than shacks. They've suffered discrimination at the hands of their fellow Americans. And when the hurricane came, it seemed to veer out of its way, just to hit them.

So why didn't hundreds of Cajuns from western Louisiana appear on my TV screen this week, complaining that George W. Bush doesn't like them, demanding $200 billion of my tax dollars or blaming the bad weather on Halliburton?

Hurricane Rita may have hit western Louisiana harder than Katrina hit New Orleans, but Rita across folks made of sterner stuff then you'll find in the Ninth Ward. Here's how one Washington Post story described the scene just hours after Rita made landfall near Intracoastal City, a "city" that in many senses barely exists:

"The only people who can get here are the sturdiest of sorts, a small armada of Cajuns with pretty French names and sunburned skin and don't-mess-with-me bravado. The bayous were full of them Saturday, gliding high and quick in airboats, and so was the Vermilion River, where they were spinning steering wheels on fast Boston Whalers and kicking up wakes in flat-bottomed, aluminum boats. They did not wait for the president or FEMA or anyone else to tell them that there were people out there - out there and desperate, on rooftops...

'I got out of the sheriff's office in about 20 seconds,' said Steve Artee, as his son, Chris, made a hard, boat-tilting turn on the swollen Vermilion. 'They just took my cell phone number, and I was gone. That's because Kathleen Blanco wasn't involved.'"

Now, anyone who hates Blanco and bureaucrats can't be all bad. But I don't agree with Mr. Artee that the people of Vermilion Parish behaved more responsibly or showed more strength of character because Gov. Blanco didn't have their parish on her speed dial. I believe the people of western Louisiana behaved better because they are, in fact, better people.

The failure revealed by Hurricane Katrina was not a failure of government, at least, not any more than government always fails. The failure in New Orleans was a failure of character. Corrupt people electing corrupt politicians who gave millions in tax dollars to corrupt cronies to either mis-construct vital levees or to spend the money on entirely useless pork projects. Then, when disaster struck, these same people-living a Faustian deal of votes for tax-funded handouts- were utterly lost when those corrupt government officials headed for high ground without them.

As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal wrote: "In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of local officials convicted. Last year, three top officials at Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness were indicted?. Just this summer, associates of former [New Orleans] mayor Marc Morial were indicted for alleged kickbacks involving public contracts. Last month the FBI raided the home and car of Rep. William Jefferson as part of a probe into allegations he had misused his office."

Not to mention the widespread looting by the citizens of New Orleans themselves, which included televised looting by police officers, too. The chief administrative officer for Kenner, LA, was just busted for pilfering food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps from New Orleans and stashing them in his suburban home.

Hey-stay classy, New Orleans!

Then came Hurricane Rita, Katrina's ugly sister, to wreak similar havoc just a few hundred miles to the west. The communities affected were, on the surface, similar as well: Abbeville or Cameron, LA were "low income" communities. The education levels were similar to the Ninth Ward, too. And you won't find many branches of the Aryan Nations meeting among the dark-skinned natives of Cajun country, whose heritage is a genetic gumbo of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and American Indians.

But while the people of New Orleans were panicking and complaining (not to mention stealing, shooting and stabbing) days after the storm, the Cajuns of western Louisiana were out in their boats, looking for lost neighbors and rescuing strangers off rooftops.

It wasn't just because Gov. Blanco wasn't involved-it was because almost NO government is involved in these folks' daily lives. The people of rural Louisiana grow up with the assumption that their survival in this world of woe is their responsibility. Unlike far too many people in New Orleans, "low income" isn't an excuse to the working families in rural Louisiana. It's just a condition to be dealt with. They live their lives as though they own them, unlike those government-dependent "victims" who live as though life is something the state provides for them and is responsible to maintain.

Randy Gary, a fisherman from Cameron, LA, was asked about his future after his boats were destroyed and flooding poisoned the oyster beds he fished.

He didn't blame FEMA or accuse President Bush of stealing his lunch money. He wasn't spotted kicking in the door of the local Wal-Mart to snag a plasma-screen TV "for survival purposes." He has yet to join the Cajun Action Committee to investigate why so many of Rita's victims spoke French.

Instead, as the AP reports, he smiled.

"What else we gonna do?" he said, pledging to rebuild his shattered home and work. "It's my life. It's what I do."
Hurricane Rita, you've met your match.

Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed Listen to "Michael Graham, Unleashed" weekdays at Right Talk.


Blogger jomama said...

The people of rural Louisiana grow up with the assumption that their survival in this world of woe is their responsibility.

What an unusual idea. Too bad there's not more of that going around.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

It goes on more than many think. Ask people like me who are self-employed, whose asses are hanging out there with no disability insurance, no worker's comp coverage and no unemployment insurance.

Does it scare hell out of me that tomorrow my house of cards might come crashing down? You bet - if I think about it. But it's what I do, so I buck up. There are a hell of a lot of people in this country that do not look to their government or unions for assistance should the worst happen. They can't, because they are self-employed small businessmen and women who can't afford private disability policies, and aren't making enough to save more than a few bucks here and there.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous seawitch said...


A lot of people in Mississippi are in the same boat as you. And they are having to deal with the issues you bring up. A lot of the mom and pop businesses will more than likely never reopen.

The majority of us in Mississippi have trouble accepting help when it is needed. It is an embarressment to be on unemployment, food stamps, and standing in line to receive Red Cross assistance. Rest assured I and many others will not be in this predicament much longer. We will work ourselves out of this mess.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Esther said...

jomama, that same quote struck me.

seawitch, I must stick up for unemployment not being an embarrassment. My father thought that too, I recall. But you know what, when taxes are taken out of your paycheck, you know what else is taken out? Money for unemployment. So you've given all this money into it...you are more than entitled to receive what is essentially your money back when needed. And I'd say that even if I wasn't on it right now. ;)

9:35 AM  
Anonymous seawitch said...


I guess I will have to get used to the idea of the taxes I paid in as being a sort of savings account for now!!!


That is a good quote. And there are many in the small towns around New Orleans and in Mississippi who feel the same way.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Esther is right. Unemployment is called Unemployment INSURANCE for a reason. YOU pay the premium out of your wages. Collecting unemployment INSURANCE is not an embarrassment. When I was an employee, I had no qualms about collecting unemployment in between jobs.

If you pay for auto insurance would you be embarrassed about accepting a check from the insurance company to cover your car if it was totalled in an accident?

The amount I pay in insurance every year between work, homeowners and automobiles, those basdtards should give me a check once in a while JUST BECAUSE! LOL

10:22 AM  
Anonymous seawitch said...


In Mississippi the employer pays the unemployment insurance not the employee. The Mississippi Employment Security Commission runs the program. So, I personally didn't fork out any money for it. But I do pay property taxes for my house, car, and income tax to the state and federal government. Don't let me forget the sales tax on all purchases except medicine and personal services!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

"he employer pays the unemployment insurance not the employee."

Here in Cal, if I remember right, it is paid into by bothg employer and employee.

I do not have employees so I don't need to know this. But I should.

And your employer gets his pound of flesh from your hide. It still isn't a handout. ;0)>

4:31 PM  
Anonymous seawitch said...



5:15 PM  

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