Nature's 9/11, Bush's poverty problem, a global warming wake-up call and it's only looting if you're black By TIM DICKINSON

It sounds like terrible science fiction: A shark swimming the streets of New Orleans. But that's now the dreadful reality in the Crescent City.

The Big Easy is succumbing to the waters of Lake Ponchatrain -- at last count 80 percent of the city was underwater. "We always were afraid the bowl that is New Orleans would fill quickly," one emergency coordinator told Reuters. "Now it appears to be filling slowly." The nation hasn't seen a disaster like this since fire leveled San Francisco in 1906. "We've got desperate people shooting in the air, using flares to identify themselves," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told the LA Times. "It's a surreal situation, almost like a nightmare . . . We're not even dealing with bodies."

Meanwhile, the cities of Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi look like A-bombs went off. Riverboat casino barges have been dropped hundreds of yards onshore. One literally on top of a Holiday Inn. Dozens are known to be dead. Given that rescue efforts have barely begun and corpses are literally floating in the water we shouldn't be at all surprised to see death tolls topping 1,000. Please click here to contribute to the Red Cross Relief effort.

Call In the National Guard

Disaster relief on the Gulf coast is one of the very real casualties of the Iraq war. The nearly 10,000 guardsmen and reserves are tied up in Iraq. And they took their equipment with them. Humvees. High Water Vehicles. Generators. All the things you need on the ground. Right now. But they're not in New Orleans. Not in Mobile. Not in Biloxi. They're in Baghdad.

Bush Strums While the Big Easy Sinks

In the face of this unmitigated disaster, President Bush has been playing the blues. This is obviously not a time to be scoring cheap political points. But neither is it the time for the president to be clowning around as a country music star.

I'm glad to see that Bush has finally cut short his vacation. But why did it take two full days? Was tooting his horn about Medicare in Arizona on Monday, or comparing his disastrous campaign in Iraq to the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation in WWII in San Diego on Tuesday really more important than taking charge of Katrina relief?

This is the time for moving some of that Heaven and Earth he's always talking about. Anything less is pure incompetence -- especially politically. For an unpopular president seen as out of touch after his 5-week vacation, what better way to demonstrate your leadership and kinship with real people than to leap to action?

Instead, while this president strums his guitar and Washington lumbers to begin relief efforts, people are dying and one of the greatest cities on earth is sinking. The richest nation on the planet ought to be able to do better.

A Global Warming Wake-Up Call

Was Katrina caused by global warming? The answer is: Probably not. But was climate change enough to turbo charge the storm to a category five? That's entirely likely. Some would argue, a certainty.

Here's the thing: Global warming doesn't make the weather we experience. It makes the weather we experience stronger. It turns droughts, heat waves, blizzards and, yes, hurricanes up to eleven. And sometimes 12, and 13. Whether Katrina, like Ivan before her, was the specific product of global warming is not a fruitful debate. It's unknowable. But what can be said with real certainty, is that unless we work to reverse course on our carbon emissions, we will see more storms like the one that ravaged the Gulf Coast this week. President Bush said at the end of June that the Kyoto accord would have "wrecked" the American economy. But we're now staring at tens of billions of insured losses from a single storm. Billions more that are going to have to come from the federal government to repair highways, oil infrastructure, and assorted destruction. We're going to pay to fight global warming one way or another. Hopefully this hurricane -- and the wrecked economy of the Gulf Coast -- helps us wake up to that fact. It's Only Looting If You're Black. If you ever needed a case study in the subtle ways racism still reigns in America, just compare these two captions. Unreal, isn' it? You would have hoped those days were behind us.

Tax Cuts and Poverty

For the fourth straight year, poverty is up in George Bush's America. Today 12.7 percent of our countrymen are living below the poverty line. 37 million people. Nearly one third of them children. That's up 6 million since 2000. Imagine the entire population of the state of Washington falling into poverty. That's a national tragedy that should move us as much as a hurricane. But it's just a blip on the AP wire. In a related development, another 800,000 people also lost health insurance last year. For the record, that's 45.8 million uninsured.

Culture of Life?

The FDA was supposed to have made Plan B, the so called morning after pill, available over the counter by now. But thanks to the Christian conservative dogma trumping science in the agency, that decision was, again, punted down the road. Finally, someone has quit in protest.

"I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled," wrote the FDA's director of women's health in her letter of resignation. "The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions, is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health."

If pro lifers really wanted to limit abortions, there's no single easier or more effective way to achieve that than to ease access to emergency contraception. It's only a mistaken hysteria that the blast of hormones that Plan B provides is itself a form of abortion -- combined with puritanical fears that improved contraception will contribute to greater sexual freedom -- that are keeping this off pharmacy shelves. And that's a travesty. It's an affront to science and an affront to women. And frankly an affront to the "Culture of Life."

Unfortunately, it's entirely in keeping with the administration's track record. See for example: the abstinence-only ideology undermining American anti-AIDS efforts in Africa. According to senior U.N. officials, the attempts to scare people sexless in Uganda and elsewhere is literally killing them by causing them to doubt the efficacy of condoms.

"There is no question in my mind that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by the extreme policies that the administration in the U.S. is now pursuing in the emphasis on abstinence," said Stephen Lewis, the secretary-general's special envoy for AIDS in Africa.

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