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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.
Musings From the Road

September 12, 2005

Frustrated From Afar

Like many in the television business, NATPE was a convention I made efforts not to miss. NATPE stands for: National Association of Television Programming Executives. For many years, it alternated between Las Vegas and New Orleans, the two cities in the U.S. where people go to be bad.

NATPE was where you went to see almost anyone else who was working in television. It had the feel, I always thought, of a high school reunion coupled with the promise of making money.

Since the dotcom crash and the consolidation of many media companies into ever fewer, larger companies the Convention has become a shadow of itself, down about seventy percent in attendance. Last year, it removed itself from New Orleans and ensconced itself in Las Vegas.

Prescient timing, given what we have witnessed the last week. It appears New Orleans will be ready for occupancy sometime again in the next decade, if then. Katrina, a scourge of biblical proportions blew itself through the Gulf of Mexico and waged total war on the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, while saving its worst for hapless Louisiana and its wicked city, "The Big Easy," New Orleans, without a doubt one of America's most historic cities. Famous for its Mardi Gras and laissez faire French attitude to all sorts of consensual sin, it was also one of the poorest and most violent cities in the country, if not on the planet. Port - Au - Prince without the pigs, Tripp once commented.

According to certain columnists of the Far Christian right, New Orleans has been struck by God in the manner of a Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, were we living in a less digitally oriented age, New Orleans might well disappear with the mythic weight of those cities.

As it stands, it may well mark the moment when the U.S. has to re-evaluate both its strengths and weaknesses and perhaps surrender the cloak of infallibility we seem to have draped ourselves in the last few years.

I watched this all unfold in the comfort of the Oberoi in Delhi and I write this sitting in Singapore [the Writer's Bar of Raffles Hotel, to be exact]. The days have been spent attempting to sort out what I have witnessed and seen reported upon from afar.

My incredulity has become absolute. A catastrophe unfolded while government officials fiddled. The head of FEMA didn't know thousands were trapped at the Superdome? I knew watching CNN in Delhi. The President declared no one expected the levees to break? Obviously no one shared with him the reports filed five years and more ago warning they couldn't stand a Category 3 hurricane much less a Katrina.

The levee work was postponed while money disappeared into tax cuts, the war on terrorism and Iraq . A $2 billion dollar expenditure postponed will cost us a $100 billion plus to put right, if it can be put right.

Correctly or not, the world has the perception that New Orleans suffered mightily because it was "the dark underbelly of America ." Dark, in this case seems to refer not just to the soul of New Orleans but to the color of its inhabitants.

The front page of the Singapore Strait Times led one article with a tourist's report of being told by a policeman when she asked for help to "Go to hell! It's every man for himself!"

It is no wonder Frank Rich of the New York Times compared New Orleans to the Titanic disaster. On that ill-fated liner, which plowed into an iceberg on the wings of hubris, the poor were left to their own devices, often locked beneath decks while first class women and children were sent off in half filled lifeboats.

Perhaps New Orleans will be the story of our time that will match the Titanic, a contemporary parable for class inequalities against a desperate landscape.

What is inescapable for Mr. Bush is that he has now found himself at the center of a perfect storm -- of his own creation. What is left to see if he and the Republican Party can weather the snake pit of infrastructure failure, reduced resources as a result of tax cuts, terrorism, Iraq, Katrina, and a potential oil crisis?