Sunday, September 04, 2005

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

After this post, I'm going to take some silence around this issue, for a little while. Time to regroup and refocus. But in the meantime, here are some words to chew on, meditate on, think about, from three brothers who have good things to say.

First, from Jamaica, John Maxwell sums up the human consequences and the politics of Katrina well.

Then, from another neighboring Caribbean country, Cuba's Fidel Castro, sends a magnanimous offer of relief to the victims of Katrina (doctors, medical aid and of course the solidarity that Cuban people are famous for) without political strings attached. Will the US be open-hearted enough to accept? Supposedly the U.S. has publicly stated that all offers of aid from foreign countries will be accepted.

Finally, from my comrade Van Jones, below, a thoughtful and passionate response to the tragedy we have witnessed from afar.

In Hope,

"Why Bush Should Apologize For His Role In Drowning New Orleans,"
by Van Jones

Don't say that a hurricane destroyed New Orleans. Hurricanes do not drown cities.

It was a "perfect storm" of a different kind that put that great city underwater: Bush-era neglect of our national infrastructure,
combined with runaway global warming and a deep contempt for poor African-Americans.

The result: catastrophe. The flooding was not due to heavy rains. It resulted from a weak levee -- one that was in mid-repair when the storm hit. For years, worried local officials had been begging for increased levee aid.

But Bush had other priorities. To fund his war effort, Bush in 2003 actually slashed funding for the Southeast Lousiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA - leaving millions of dollars of vital repair work undone. And this spring, he imposed drastic reduction in hurricane- and flood-control funding - the steepest in New Orleans history.

In other words, the dollars that could have saved New Orleans were used to wage war in Iraq, instead. What's worse: funds for levees and modern pumping stations that might have spared the poor, were instead passed out to the rich, willy-nilly -- as tax breaks.

With those two simple steps, Bush squandered the hard-won Clinton-era surplus. And thus he left the national piggy bank empty for fixing and maintaining basic U.S. infrastructure.

Bush owes the people of New Orleans and the entire country an apology for under-funding our critical infrastructure.

Had the levee repairs been completed on time (two years ago), Katrina would have hit hard, destroyed buildings and probably taken some lives. But it is doubtful that it would have cracked open the floodwalls and submerged the entire CITY. It took Bush's criminal neglect of his domestic duties to produce that outcome.

But that is only one area of Bush's culpability. Ross Gelbspan says: "Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced
off south Florida, [but] it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico."

In other words, global warming likely super-charged this hurricane. Yet Bush's energy policies amount to an ongoing conspiracy to add even MORE carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the climate.

So get ready for even worse storms next year, and the next. And the next.

And the human suffering was not -- and will not be -- equally distributed.

Poor people and Black people didn't "choose to stay behind." They were left behind. All evacuation plans required the city's residents to have working, private cars -- plus gas money, nearby relatives or funds for a hotel stay. Without those things, tough luck.

Government agencies should have helped the destitute flee -- even those without cars or cash. But when the "face of suffering" is Black, somehow our high standards for effective action and compassion begin to sag.

Seeing this, Bush could have taken a strong stand on the side of the poor and the suffering. But his half-hearted, emotionally-flat statement on Wednesday did little to rally the nation. It seems that, unless "the terrorists did it," Bush just can't get himself too worked up about Americans dying by the thousands.

So tonight, our sisters and brothers are perishing. And many in uniform who could help them are half-a-world away, in Iraq. Thus, here we are. On top of five years of foolish policies that set New Orleans up for this disaster, we are now witnessing a monumental leadership failure in the Bush White House.

And we must tell the truth about it. Some will say that this is no time for the "blame game" or "divisive politics."

To the contrary: this is exactly the time to draw a line between those who fought to invest wisely in this country -- and those who happily squandered the national treasure on give-aways and imperial adventures. Progressives must not be hemmed in by some false "unity" with a President whose policies are largely to blame for this disaster.

Right now, we must press the federal government to intensify efforts to rescue everyone. Then, we must demand an immediate repeal of the tax cuts -- to enable rebuilding in New Orleans and repair of the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Lastly, let’s insist that any Louisiana and Mississippi guardsmen who want to return home from Iraq to aid their communities be allowed to do so.

The truth is that the poor people of Louisiana and Mississippi were deliberately left behind -- and not just over the weekend. Our political leaders -- most especially George W. Bush -- left them behind a long time ago.

In the aftermath of this wholly avoidable catastrophe, let us do all we can to rescue those who have been abandoned. And then let us rescue the U.S. government from those who engineered their abandonment.

At this point, we have a sacred duty to do both.

- Attorney Van Jones is founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, in Oakland, California.


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