Friday, September 09, 2005

Our Nation: Everyday Heroes

The heroes in this story about Katrina are not in the federal government. The heroes are in the streets and in the shelters. They are the common everyday people of this United States of America who continue to react with courage and dignity to the devastation and horror caused by Hurricane Katrina.

They are the people who evacuated peacefully and are coping with the loss of their lives and homes and loved ones with incredible stoicism.

They are the police and firefighters who have lost their homes, sleep in the streets, are exposed to filth and stomach turning smells, were endangered by snipers, and yet have continued to serve even without food, water, power or communication with their loved ones.

They are the Red Cross workers and the National Guard rescuers. They are the doctors and nurses and hairdressers and teachers who are all volunteering and working with our displaced brothers and sisters.

They are the working class heroes, civilians who got in boats and went from one drowned house to another looking for survivors from morning until night.

Our nation is full of heroes, full of the people who do the work in this country. They are the ones who respond when tragedy hits and go where they are needed. And they deserve to get their federal government back from the very rich and the very heartless. They deserve a federal government that cares about them as much as Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass.

"If one person criticizes them" [local officials such as the Mayor of New Orleans] "or says one more thing" [to criticize local officials, even if it is]"...the president of the United States, he will hear from me," said Senator Mary Landrieu after spending ten days in Katrina's wake. "One more word about it after this show airs and I might likely have to punch him [the President]. Literally."

"Everybody anticipated the breach of the levee, Mr. President," Landrieu said, in contradiction of Bush's statement last week that no one "anticipated the breach of the levees." And as she addressed the U.S. Senate, she noted that even "...the clay figurine, Mr. Bill, from 'Saturday Night Live'" anticipated the breach, asking "How can it be that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?"

I can tell her. He set it up that way. It's part and parcel of right-wing Republican values. Those values, and the lack of empathy inherent in them, are consistent with the astonishing statement by Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA) of Baton Rouge who was overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

After the 2004 election, Grover Norquist spoke in a room of 4000 very wealthy Bush supporters. He announced with glee that Republicans would now "stick a knife in government and kill it."

That is just what conservatives and Republican politicians have been doing, and as we have seen with Hurricane Katrina, their policies are working, with devastating results.

Those policies include, of course, eliminating public housing, FEMA, head start, public schooling, PBS, funding for police and firefighters, funding for levees, public works, parks, roads and - you name it.

If it serves the public at large, it's on the Republican chopping block with the goal of making it all privatized. Their goal is that only those who can afford to pay, directly, for services get them.

In other words, you better have a car and the money you need for gas to get out of town. If not, you are not entitled to be evacuated and, bottom line, you are not entitled to live.

Yet we see corporate hand outs given with impunity. If a policy serves corporate profit making, Republicans give it full support, especially if proposed by major corporate lobbyists who have donated to their campaigns.

Even our military is being gutted in Iraq for the benefit of private corporations who are raking in the profits from rebuilding Iraq.

And Katrina - and I've read this in a blog posted by an employee of Halliburton - Katrina represents a great opportunity for Halliburton or some other private corporation to come in and make a lot of money cleaning and rebuilding. From the Republican point of view, Katrina is good for business.

This kind of thinking is morally bankrupt. Surely the forty percent of our nation that still likes President Bush cannot agree with these values.

But as George Lakoff writes, "The moral of Katrina is mostly being missed.

It is not just a failure of execution (William Kristol), or that bad things just happen (Laura Bush).

"It was not just indifference by the President, or a lack of accountability, or a failure of federal-state communication, or corrupt appointments in FEMA (Michael Brown, appointed by President Bush as the director of FEMA had no previous experience with disaster response, but was the judges and stewards commissioner for a racehorse association), or the cutting of budgets for fixing levees, or the inexcusable absence of the National Guard off in Iraq. It was all of these and more, but they are the effects, not the cause."

"The cause was political through and through -- a matter of values and principles.

The progressive-liberal values are America's values, and we need to go back to them. The heart of progressive-liberal values is simple: empathy (caring about and for people) and responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy). These values translate into a simple principle: Use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives. In short, promoting the common good is the central role of government."

Yet the right-wing conservatives now in power have the opposite values and principles. Rather than shaping government to meet the function for which it is best suited which is promoting the common good, they are working actively to dismantle government and use what is left to benefit the very rich. The result, as we have seen, is chaos and tragedy. Poor people have no place in the rich, right-wing Republican's scheme of things.

Note this from the New Orleans Times Picayune:

"Some observers have said that because the majority of storm evacuees are black, the lethargic disaster response has a racist component. But Mayor Nagin cast the color issue in another light. "I think it's more a class issue than race," he said. "The Superdome had mostly poor people in distress. The rich have resources the poor don't. The Convention Center was different. There the poor were mixed with people from hotels and predators. You had blacks, Hispanics, Asians. The predators in there didn't care. When those stories come out, like children raped, with their throats cut, then somebody's got to answer."

Nagin's ire began to rise anew as he recalled a foiled strategy to send able-bodied refugees over the Crescent City Connection to the high ground of the West Bank.

"We were taking in people from St. Bernard Parish," he said. "If we had a bottle of water, we shared it. Then when we were going to let people cross the bridge, they were met with frigging dogs and guns at the Gretna parish line. They said, 'We're going to protect Jefferson Parish assets.'"

"Some people value homes, cars and jewelry more than human life. The only escape route was cut off. They turned them back at the parish line."

As the Bible says, He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker. Proverbs 17:5

Republican policy making is morally bankrupt precisely because it continually mocks the poor. It continually puts the acquisition of astonishing wealth for an elite minority over the common good.

More from the Times Picayune:

"Nagin said that in order to cope with the always frustrating, sometimes overwhelming situation he has tried to "stay in the moment," dealing as best he can with each individual issue as it arises: a police officer's report that a large number of elderly people were stranded near Lee Circle; the sight of refugees continuing to gather on the city's raised highways. Nagin recalled with special dismay having recently been told that a New Orleans police officer committed suicide during the storm's aftermath."

"I asked my people to get in touch with the LSU department of psychiatry," he said. "The police are holding the situation together with Band-Aids. We have to let them get three to five days off."

"As the Blackhawk coursed over the city, Nagin and the other passengers pointed out familiar landmarks made unfamiliar by the storm. The city was largely ruined. It would be as difficult to restart as the thousands of automobiles submerged in the murky water below. But Nagin insisted it must be restarted, no matter what."

"I think I'm here for a reason: to rebuild," he said. "New Orleans is the soul of the country. It's the place jazz comes from. It has Mardi Gras Indians that nobody else has. It's a place where a chef can take a piece of fish and make it into a masterpiece. We don't even think about not rebuilding Miami. We don't think about rebuilding Los Angeles, and they're on a fault line. We just do it. We don't talk about it. I don't want to talk about that foolishness."

Although progress is being made, Mayor Nagin has an incredible task before him.

Not only that, because he is a Democrat, powerful Republicans within our government - and their defenders in the media - are spinning a web to blame Mayor Nagin in order to take the focus off themselves, where it belongs.

I'm sorry, but the Bush Administration has cut funds to every city in this nation causing them to trim police and fire departments and put off infrastructure repair.

It is FEMA and, more than that, the Office of the President that is responsible for the gross mismanagement.

I, for one, am immensely proud of Mayor Nagin. He has stood up for his people - and for us, for we are all Americans. He has a tough job ahead in rebuilding New Orleans. Please send him your positive thoughts and prayers. And when mail delivery is restored, send him your cards and congratulations.

I am also tremendously grateful and proud of New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass. A real hero, his leadership abilities are truly astonishing.

I urge every American to bless all those who are dealing with this catastrophe. Commit today, in your heart, that you will never allow federal politicians to so misuse our government and national resources again. Vow that you will never allow them to cut the heart out of America again.

Then be proud. Be proud of your fellow Americans, for they are the salt of the earth and the soul of this land.

The blessing of Katrina will be that she has reminded us of this: who we are, as a nation. We are a great, brave and compassionate people. We can and will have a federal government that reflects who we are. We will have a federal government that cares as much as Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Chief Eddie Compass and Senator Mary Landrieu.

Why? Because we deserve no less.

Meanwhile, for a list of ways you can help our fellow Americans in the Gulf Coast, click here.

God bless you and yours.


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