Devastated Dreams

July 2005


Listening to all the reports from the Gulf Coast this week, I am profoundly saddened, but I am also hopeful. I am saddened that so many people had to suffer and die needlessly, but I am hopeful that this will pull the curtain aside for a lot of people and allow them to understand that things are as they are, and not as they wished them to be, in this country.

"Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen and then ask yourself, what should be the reward of such sacrifices... If ye love wealth better than freedom, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands that feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
- Samuel Adams

I have been horrified by the accounts of indifference and applied racism coming out of the Deep South. But more than that, I was flabbergasted by an all-pervasive prejudice against the poor, the disadvantaged and the helpless. The prevailing opinion of those in charge seems to have been that this was a golden opportunity to get those people to disappear - that they should, in Dickens' words, "die and decrease the surplus population" (A Christmas Carol).

The action of the governor of the state of Louisiana in turning off the water supply is particularly criminal. The city was supplied by water that was not contaminated. It had an independent power supply that was not in jeopardy. The governor said she did this to force people to evacuate. If the governor had provided any means for the people of New Orleans to evacuate, then this might have been plausible. That they were, instead, prevented from leaving by armed state militia transforms her actions into a crime against humanity, verging on ethnic cleansing.

It was very little surprise that most of the government officials involved, including our president, were more interested in limiting the loss to property owners than in saving lives. I would have applauded Bush had he come out on Monday night and said that he would have zero tolerance for any loss of life in the area -- that with the immense resources and expertise available in this country, we should be able to move rapidly and effectively to reduce human suffering and to make sure people survive this catastrophe. Instead, he said that there would be zero tolerance of people breaking into grocery stores to find food and water for their families.

The world has not been blind to our reaction to this national tragedy, nor have they been quiet. Cuba has been repeatedly ravaged by devastating hurricanes in the last 20 years and has, as a result, a world-class group of emergency responders who are trained and equipped to provide aid to people following just this kind of catastrophe. Fidel Castro offered to send 1100 specially trained physicians to Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday following the hurricane. This group was trained to help in the exact situation the Gulf Coast faced. They could have been on the ground Wednesday afternoon and could have saved hundreds of lives in the affected area. Our government turned down this necessary aid because Bush and his party disagree with Castro's politics. American citizens should not have to die because our government thinks some group of foreigners is wrong.

The world sees the reality of our policies as they affect our own people. We have lots of high-sounding words about democracy and freedom. We have lots of high moral tone to spread about. What we do not have is any real empathy for poor helpless people, unless somebody makes a profit from alleviating their suffering. We're beginning to repair the damage caused by the hurricane. Who do we propose to pay to do this vital work? Exactly the same people who have done such a criminally bad job of completing contracts to rebuild Iraq, Haliburton and Bechtel. Those companies have been convicted and fined for cheating and defrauding US taxpayers over and over again, yet they are being invited to do this work.

The only bright spot in this whole affair is that, perhaps, the curtain has been torn -- people who convinced themselves of the goodness and morality of the neo-cons in power will see the evil magician behind the curtain and not believe their lies with such passionate devotion. We need to wake up the people in this country. The predators prey on all of us in the end, and we need to stand up defiantly and demand an accounting.

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