New Orleans: The Nation’s Shame

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         A government that presponds would have worked wonders for New Orleans – not only by being ready to rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina, but by keeping the city from being flooded and devastated in the first place.

·         Unfortunately, the media, the politicians, and the nation at large will probably pay attention to New Orleans only for the rest of this week – or maybe even just this day – and then go back to whatever they were doing before.

·         Meanwhile, New Orleans still is nowhere near being fully recovered, as it continues to suffer from broken infrastructure, inadequate flood protection, anemic population growth and rampant crime.  If we don’t pay attention and do something about all this when it’s not August 29, what makes us think New Orleans will be significantly better off a year from now?

·         It’s time for real, bold action.  Fuck the Republican small government ideology.  We need a big government that works – one that will really kick the rebuilding of New Orleans into high gear and get the great city back into full health!

 

Last week, I wrote about how much better off the country would be if we had a government that presponds – i.e. prepares – for things instead of merely responding to them.  Nowhere is that more true than New Orleans, which is noting the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival today.  Forget all the moaning and groaning over the federal government’s horribly botched response – if the government, at local, state AND federal levels, had properly prepared the levees and made sure they were strong enough to withstand storm surges, New Orleans would have stayed dry.  There would have been little to no flooding.  And there wouldn’t have been so much shit to have to “respond” to afterwards.

 

This is not a dream scenario, folks.  This is just what would’ve happened had we had an active government that stood right by the American people.  Instead, the government we’re stuck with is run by idiot Republican ideologues who think that the government that governs best governs least.  Yeah, tell that to the people of New Orleans.  It makes me wish that these same Republican ideologues all lived in New Orleans, preferably the Lower Ninth Ward.

 

In a way, the national habit of simply ignoring problems until they come up, and then ignoring them again later on, is itself being exemplified this week.  Today, the whole media is running stories about New Orleans and how much of a hellhole it still is, with unrepaired levees, broken infrastructure and rampant crime.  Five presidential candidates are or have descended on the city to posture and look good.  By tomorrow, or maybe next week if we’re lucky, the media and the politicians will have left New Orleans and the rest of the country will forget about it, leaving it in the dark to struggle with its overwhelming challenges.  Then, a year from now, everyone will come back and look at New Orleans again and go, holy shit!  It’s still so bad over there?  Well, yes.  Because NOLA has become the country’s ugly stepchild, the one that’s kept up in the attic and is only remembered when it happens to be its birthday, at which point the family might go up and pay a visit – and afterwards, ignore it for another year. (And yes, I freely admit that I’m feeding into this system by not having written about New Orleans (since Katrina) until now, and probably not writing about it for another while.)

 

This is not how it should be.  New Orleans should be at the forefront of the nation’s attention.  If I were President, I would ask about New Orleans every day.  I would be constantly asking about the progress of the reconstruction and rehabilitation of that city.  And whatever money the city asked for, I’d ask Congress to give it.  And I would make sure that money is being spent on the city and on the people, not going to the pockets of private corporations and CEOs like it has been.  And let’s get one thing straight: two years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, NOLA is nowhere near being fully recovered.  One hundred and forty thousand households are still waiting for their checks from the Road Home program.  Only 7% of those who lived in the Lower Ninth Ward have returned.  Even though the city has lost a massive amount of population, it has the highest murder rate of any city in the nation.  Hell, the all-important levees aren’t even fully repaired and upgraded to withstand another Katrina!  No wonder so few people are moving back to NOLA – the place is still a shithole, and how nice would that be, to move back to a hurricane-devastated city only to once again lose everything to another killer hurricane that the city wasn’t prepared for, thanks to government negligence.  That is, if you don’t get shanked first.

 

The Democratic Congress should take this opportunity to really help New Orleans.  It should most certainly allocate more money and resources – that’s important.  But it should also investigate the various programs that are supposed to be funneling those resources to the city, and if there’s any waste, fraud and abuse in the system – and from the looks of it there most certainly is – it needs to be exposed and eliminated.  We need to figure out why so much money that’s leaving the federal treasury isn’t actually ending up in New Orleans, or in the hands of its 273 000 citizens.  Also, Congress should most certainly be thinking up and enacting massive federal programs – yes, that’s right, BIG GOVERNMENT programs – to really rebuild and repopulate New Orleans and get its people back on their feet.  And since I think it should be pretty obvious by now that our current President doesn’t give a flying rat’s ass about New Orleans, the next President of the United States should make the rehabilitation of New Orleans his or her top domestic priority.  Because, let’s face it, New Orleans is our national shame.  Let’s end that shame.

A Government That Presponds

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         Government exists for a reason.

·         Government, and all of us in general, need to not only respond to disasters but prespond to them.  We need to identify problems and do something about them before they become catastrophes.

·         And we can’t be paralyzed by the Republican-invented fear of “big government”, because the only type of government that we need and want – a government that actually takes care of the American people, that constantly attends to and maintains the security and prosperity of both the people and the physical country they live in, that does its best to make sure everything goes right and nothing goes wrong, that actually tries to prespond to disasters instead of just responding to them – is a big government. 

·         There IS a choice – a choice between the needs and wants of the Republican Party, and the needs and wants of the American people.  I know which side I’m on.  Which side are you on?

 

On August 1 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed during rush hour traffic, leading to the deaths of 13 people.  Six days later, at the AFL-CIO Democratic presidential debate in Chicago, the first question asked of the candidates was about that incident in particular and infrastructure in general, and of course all the candidates talked at length about how important infrastructure is and how we need to massively invest in it, etc. etc.

 

What I don’t understand is why it always seems like these questions are never asked and nothing is ever done until after the terrible tragedy or whatever has already happened.  I remember watching an episode of The Daily Show about a recent disaster (I forget which one) and after a clip of some politician (I forget who; probably President Bush) saying something like “we will immediately respond”, John Stewart muses, “why can’t they ever… prespond?”

 

And indeed, that’s what I’m wondering now.  Why is it that we have to wait until that bridge collapses, and then start talking about infrastructure – let alone actually do anything about it like spend money?  It’s not like the bridge fell out of the blue; there were ample signs that the bridge was in need of renovation prior to the tragedy.  But the government sat on its ass and did nothing until it actually happened.  Same with Hurricane Katrina – despite numerous warnings and a near-miss by Hurricane Ivan a year prior, no one did anything to upgrade the levies that would have prevented the disaster from happening in the first place.

 

With all the Republican anti-government rhetoric that has effectively set the political climate of the last thirty years at least, it’s easy to forget why people invented government in the first place.  One of the reasons why government exists is to protect each person from things that that person would not be able to protect him/herself from – things like massive hurricanes, or bridge collapses, or suicidal terrorists.  Another major reason why government exists is to provide and maintain a high quality of life in our human society.  Wouldn’t you like to know, the next time you’re driving across a bridge, that the bridge won’t just suddenly collapse and send you hurtling to your death in the waters below?  I sure would.

 

I want to know that in this complicated society we live in, I don’t have to worry about being randomly killed by a criminal (whether that be a common murderer or a foreign terrorist), that my stuff won’t just be randomly stolen, that the water I take a shower in isn’t polluted and poisonous, that the meat I buy off the shelf at a grocery store won’t kill me when I eat it, that I can enjoy the park or the library whenever I wish, that I can drive on well-maintained roads and bridges, that my trash will be properly disposed of, that kids will be educated in schools instead of growing up in poverty and crime, that if I get sick I won’t just be forced to die because I can’t afford to get treatment, that if I live in a low-lying area like New Orleans I will be protected from floods, that if I live in a high-profile area like New York City I will be protected from terrorists, and so on.  We, as human beings, decided a long time ago that we were going to improve our quality of life and our security and well-being by forming a society, and a society only works when there are governments – at state, local, AND federal levels – overseeing it.

 

A responsible, proactive, “big” federal government like the kind I repeatedly call for would have PREVENTED the 9/11 attacks.  It would have PREVENTED the wrecking of New Orleans.  It would have PREVENTED the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.  Instead, the government we’re stuck with – a careless, stupid, incompetent government – did nothing to prevent these tragedies and when they did happen, didn’t do a whole lot to fix them (and in the case of 9/11, the Republicans took the further step of exploiting the attacks for political gain while leaving NYC to choke in its toxic dust).  Instead of a competent government that takes care of problems before they happen, we have a laughingstock of a government that runs from one disaster to the next, haphazardly trying to tidy things up, like a guy trying to plug up one hole after another in a leaking dam.  And we dare call ourselves the greatest nation on the planet?

 

It’s high time for the kind of government that I’ve been calling for – a government that actually takes care of the American people, that constantly attends to and maintains the security and prosperity of both the people and the physical country they live in, that does its best to make sure everything goes right and nothing goes wrong, that actually tries to prespond to disasters instead of just responding to them.  And let’s be real: the only kind of government that can do all that is a – cue the scary music – BIG GOVERNMENT!  I know what you’ve heard from Republicans about big government.  But I for one think that Republican ideology and rhetoric is a little less important than the well-being of the American people.  The Democratic Party is far more inclined to make this kind of government a reality.  We Democrats now have control of Congress.  Come January 2009, we will have control of the White House as well.  At that point, what more will we need?