Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Killing of New Orleans

“Good Morning, America, How are you?
Don’t you know me? I’m your native son.
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans
And I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.
” Steve Goodman, 1970 covered by Arlo Guthrie, 1972

I remember the spirit of America. I heard this song as a teenage boy and imagined the homeless poor, the hobos riding the rails in search of a better life, peering from the open door of a boxcar. I thought of the 1920s and 1930s when the economy had collapsed and how these poor people scrounged, migrated, and stole their way toward survival or death. It was a fact of life for most of America, particularly for the Dust Bowl denizens and for those “Okies” who went West to find a more gentle place to live. I remember the feeling of living in a family on the cusp of poverty during my childhood and apparently took in a sense of identity from that time. Poor people were all around and they were not much different that we were.

Today, we are seeing New Orleans drown and burn and the government is responding very poorly, especially given the promises of Homeland Security and the predictability of this kind of disaster. We saw it coming and we talked about it for years. When Hugo made landfall over Charleston, SC, everyone talked of the day that it would happen in New Orleans. When Andrew blew away south Miami, we talked about it even more. More recently, we talked a big show of how we, the United States, would be ready to respond to the threat of a nuclear or biological attack on one of our major cities. Instead, we got Katrina, and she has ripped the blinders off the American public about class, race, security, safety and survival in America. She has ripped open the soft underbelly of America and the politicians know it. Suddenly, they are standing naked next to an Emperor who thinks he is clothed in the finest garb. The finger pointing has been vicious today.

Now we learn that the disaster plan that was prepared took into account a large number of stranded residents who would not have transportation nor economic means to evacuate in the event of such a storm. It seems that the part that is missing is an effort to help them escape. Now that we see the outcome, it is obvious that we had inadequate stockpiles of emergency supplies for them in place and that the government is over-committed by the war in Iraq. In past natural disasters, it has been the role of the National Guard to secure the peace and begin the recovery, but this time, a lot of the National Guard from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is stationed in Iraq. While deployed in a war of questionable merit, they have left behind a vast hole into which New Orleans has fallen.

To judge from our reaction, we are either inept and very slow to mobilize or we are crippled by our overseas commitments or we are uncaring for a class of people that embarrasses us. I think that this crisis is a mix of all three, and I use the word “class” purposefully. We have never cared much for the poor in America. Hobos, made homeless, were ridden out of towns on rails. Hoovervilles, shantytowns where the poor camped in our large cities, were bulldozed and burned to eliminate the image of the poor from our history. Today, there are “domestic refugees” during peacetime in the United States. We have more people living in poverty in America than we had last year, and that has been the case for a record number of years during the Bush Administration. More and more people are unemployed. Without employment, most Americans lose their access to healthcare. During the last election, we had 42 million Americans living with no health care insurance and we still reelected Bush. The truth is that an unchecked capitalist society is just as nefarious as an unchecked dictatorship…the same result of oppression of masses is achieved.

Many people wish to make this an issue of race. I have thought about this issue all my life, having lived through desegregation in a very poor, mixed-race section of North Carolina. The issue of race is truly secondary to the issue of class. It is convenient to keep telling the non-whites that all white people are evil and want to subjugate them forever and to tell the poor whites that the “others” are taking the jobs that they so desperately need. Once the big lie is spread, the damage is done. The poor will pass it along as common knowledge because they have to blame something for their plight. It is a recipe for tension and it works to support the powers that be by dividing the class of poor, working class people who make up the factions. Whatever happened to the lessons about giving to the poor and being our brother’s keepers. We claim loudly and proudly that we are the richest and most powerful country in the World. I think we now see our vulnerability and it is shocking.

The most ironic aspect to this debacle is that the State Department announced today that it would accept any offer of aid that is intended to benefit the people and infrastructure in the Gulf Coast area. Fidel Castro immediately promised to send, among other things, doctors, and El Salvador offered to send us troops to secure New Orleans. I am imagining the puckering of sphincters in the State Department tonight as they figure a way to turn these offers down. Can you imagine the embarrassment to the Bush Administration in accepting foreign troops on our soil in order to secure our own New Orleans? Even more ludicrous is that we would be in need of aid from the government on our doorstep that we have tried unsuccessfully to overthrow for the past 46 years.

When George W. Bush first ran for office in this country, he openly expressed his distrust, his distaste and his disgust with the Federal government and with Washington, DC, in particular. It would seem that he has gone into the job of President with the intent of dismantling the Federal government to the point that it is not able to function. If that was his aim, I would say he is pretty successful at that goal. On the other hand, as a business man, he has a history of running businesses into the ground. Perhaps we are just witnessing another example of his leadership skills.

I made a donation today to the relief effort via the Rainbow Fund (see link in my sidebar). I hope that you will all donate too, to the charity of your choice. The need is so great and our tax money has gone to priorities that overlook the poor. They are not the group to carry the blame for this debacle. They are the victims.



Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Bush needs to work on improving our health care system as millions lack health insurance.

12/16/2005 03:14:00 AM  

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