By Carol Roper
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I just don't get it.|
Why, in the richest nation in the world, do we permit abject poverty to exist? Why, when most of us in this country live in homes which would be considered luxurious by the standards of much of the world, do we not find it in our hearts and wallets to help those who cannot manage to buy their medicines, or feed their children? How can we call ourselves civilized?
As we sit watching our cable tv coverage of yet another disaster, we feel horror and outrage. We jump up and run to our computers and sign petitions sent to our lawmakers, demanding they do 'something'. We give money to the Red Cross, or other organizations trying desperately to stop the dying, and save the living. And then we feel better.
We did our part, didn't we?
No, we didn't. Our grinning imbecile president tells the hurricane victims and the nation that "...America will be a stronger place for it," and goes back to riding his two-wheeled horses on his sprawling Texas ranch -- which COULD house many refugees. I feel my stomach lurch. This will not make us better or stronger - nor wiser, it seems, either. Katrina could have been much less a taskmaster had FEMA not been reduced to a patronage organization and not flatly denied Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests.
In June of this year, funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas was the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.
As Katrina steamrolled the city, Bush mugged for the cameras, cut a cake for John McCain, played the guitar for Mark Wills, delivered an address about V-J day, and continued with his vacation. One of the greatest disasters in our national history and our President doesn't think it important enough to return to his offices?
Eventually, he talked to the governors on the phone and flew over the area, and attempted to excuse his indifference with "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." ["Good Morning America," Sept. 1, 2005]. The article goes on to suggest a response that was never given: Mr. President: the Army Corps of Engineers wanted more money to prevent exactly that. They must have anticipated something. The New Orleans Times-Picayune concluded yesterday that 'No one can say they didn't see it coming.' A former Republican congressman who headed the Corps of Engineers in your own administration lost his job after he publicly criticized your efforts to cut the Corps' budget. How can you say nobody saw this coming?"
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin estimates that THE DEATH TOLL NOW COULD REACH UP TO 10,000 in that city alone. TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE. Mothers, fathers, sisters, babies, grandmas, healthy people, sick people, POOR people who couldn't afford to evacuate. People desperately trying to hold onto what little they had accumulated over their lifetimes. People who PA Republican Senator Rick Santorum chillingly dismissed - "I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.” How utterly ignorant and callous can he be?
Clearly, these people do not count. They're poor, predominantly black and obviously, simply unimportant to our President and his political acolytes. If you don't think this is about race and class, read Jason DePerle's excellent NY Times editorial. Instead of taking action, Bush incomprehensibly praises Mike Brown, a horse show judge and roommate of previous FEMA head Louis Allbaugh, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." ... as if saying so could make it true. We completely ignore the fact that global warming has contributed to not only Katrina's rage, but those storms yet to strike. "Global Warming" is no longer a "prediction of paranoid weathercasters", it is now a fact. This horror will happen again and again. Here, and around the world, and we are to blame. Of course we cannot control nature, but we can and we DO create environmental anomalies which exacerbate natural occurrences.
Meanwhile, as we talk about who to blame and how outrageous this all is, bodies and more bodies are found. People who survived the hurricane are still dying because no one is there to rescue them. Families are dying because they have no water to drink, no food to eat and no place to lie down.
HOW can this be? Reporters are crying, civil officials are in a state of shock and disbelief, and still, the effort to save the people of New Orleans and surrounding area goes on at a snail's pace.
So who IS helping? Thousands of private citizens have opened their homes to those lucky enough to escape. In many cases, those giving the most are other poor black people, accepting personal hardship to help those in need. Millions have given money and donations of clothing, furniture, etc, to help those who have lost everything but their lives begin their lives anew. Bangladesh, for goodness sakes, has sent one million dollars to help.
Henry Breitrose, Professor at Stanford University, summed it up well: A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.
Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell."Read all of his article- "Chronology of Bush's FEMA Failure".
We CAN do something more. We can vote out the 'new Republicans' whose passion for cronyism and accumulating personal wealth is the only thing guiding their decisions about our country. We can demand that we take care of our own, by re-establishing a realistic budget for FEMA, by enacting laws to drastically reduce pollution levels, by taking our country back from those leaders who have shown that their golf games are more important than the lives of our poorest citizens.
This won't be fixed overnight. It can't be. It took years to build the levels of incompetence we now are witnessing, and it will take years to remedy it. But we CAN start right now to change. It will take every one of us, white, black, brown, yellow... we are one human family and we need to start showing some family loyalty. Love and morality and ethical behavior -- civilization -- can and MUST begin at home.
Carol Roper is an artist, writer & designer, wife and mother of two, and a fervent advocate of TRUE equal rights for all.
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