Do you think nothing good came out of Hurricane Katrina? You may be wrong.
Had Katrina dissipated her awesome energy at sea rather than visiting her fury of sustained winds up to 140 mph on Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana, leaving millions without homes, infrastructure, or basic services, spawning over 60 tornadoes in eight states, and causing at least 2500 confirmed dead and missing persons, there would have been no national emergency.
Had the levee system been competently designed, constructed, and maintained; and the buffering, protecting wetlands been wisely protected despite the incessant single-minded demands of trans-national shipping and big oil, the storm surge inundation of vast coastal areas, including the City of New Orleans, would not have occurred, or would have been much less severe.
Had the federal Dep’t of Homeland Security (four years after the lesson of 9-11 that motivated the creation of this largest ever federal bureaucracy) bothered to plan, prepare, and coordinate a response for a multi-state catastrophe on U.S. soil; and had George Bush junior, the Cabinet, and the DHS (exposed by the inquiries of incredulous, angered reporters) not demonstrated unequivocally before the eyes and ears of a horrified nation, that they were unaware and unconcerned of the existence, nature, and scope of the unfolding disaster; and had responsible, competent leadership coordinated timely and appropriate, national evacuation, rescue, and relief operations; then wide-scale unnecessary suffering, death, sorrow, and loss would not have occurred.
And one other thing that would not have occurred is the 2006 election results. The arrogant neo-cons, the knee-jerk market-value ideologues, and the culture-war operatives who have purloined the party of Honest Abe Lincoln (on the heels of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to pull die-hard racist Dixiecrats into the Republican Party) would still today control the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.
U.S. citizens and the world saw what happened when disaster struck the entire Gulf Coast region of the United States, and the evidence was unequivocal, damning, and impossible to ignore or mistake. A single instance of bureaucratic malfeasance could not alone cause the political distemper and awakening that resulted in the sea change that occurred and was manifested in the November election. For a single mistake, even a whopper like that, is not enough for Americans to pull the plug on an elected government. Katrina was, however, the eye-opener for us; the last straw. It was the end of an imperial presidency that saw itself, and sought to put itself, above both the law and the citizens. Katrina was the name of the guileless child who uttered aloud and unafraid for all to hear that the emperor was parading without clothes.
The camel’s back was first loaded when Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, and the Supreme Court rejected justice and turned its own ideological bias inside out, when it approved the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal voters in Florida, and voted 5-4 to put Bush/Cheney in charge.
Then quickly followed the series of tax cuts that increasingly and overwhelmingly favored the very wealthy and are still causing cutbacks in basic local services across the nation, such as education and public safety and elder care. They harnessed coming, even unborn, generations of Americans to paying for record high structural budget deficits established by this Bush Administration and its compliant, rubber stamp Congress.
Following the terrorist attack in September of 2001, all U.S. citizens were united in common cause. People and governments around the world felt support and empathy for us. That solidarity was squandered, exploited, and dishonored by the mistaken, unjustified military invasion of Iraq and the mismanaged occupation that followed. Even the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission were not implemented.
The widespread corporate frauds, and CEO greed, and unbridled war profiteering that shamelessly fleeced America in these opening years of the 21st century formed a sleazy backdrop for the corruption institutionalized in the notorious K Street Project’s blatant sale and restriction of government “access”, and the tawdry spectacles of legislation written by corporate lobbyists, and national policy shaped in secrecy by elected officials and unnamed corporations with substantial vested interest.
Few new members of Congress elected in 2006 ran explicitly on a Katrina platform when they turned the tables and upset the incumbents. They campaigned denouncing the culture of corruption and degeneracy established and protected by the elected leadership in Washington and their corporate benefactors.
They took a stand against the exponentially increasing disparity of wealth and income between the super rich and all the rest of us that is threatening America’s middle class, and inexorably swelling the ranks of the poor and the homeless, the uninsured and those forced to chose between medicine and food.
They spoke out against tax policy and “free trade” agreements that free the flow of capital to the rich while shackling working people’s wages and freedom, and impoverishing and polluting the environment.
They demanded that the opportunity for higher education again be open and available to all Americans.
They advocated universal health care (like all other modern industrial nations have) to replace our current patchwork, employer based, exorbitantly expensive, and failing system that is booby trapped with fine print concocted by private insurance corporate strategists.
They developed the courage to say, while campaigning, what people on Main street have long been saying to each other – to abandon the misbegotten, misguided occupation of Iraq, and the policy of fighting fire with gasoline there, and get out.
And they won election because people agreed – but more importantly, because Katrina had finally broken open the faulty floodgates of public condemnation.
Katrina cleared the way for the new members of Congress, and it was on Katrina’s coat tails they all rode. Katrina finally opened our eyes, and galvanized public opposition to a heartless, careless, incompetent, unworthy, self-serving regime.
Katrina alerted many of us who had been too busy and otherwise occupied to examine closely all the preceding warnings that had been obscured and confused by the inherent complexity of issues and by the propaganda. Many Americans with honorable political and moral convictions had previously and loyally supported George W. and company without question. Katrina awakened America.
America and the world owes a debt of gratitude to the victims of the simultaneous conjunction of the “Perfect Storm” triple threat presented by Hurricane Katrina, by the cruel dominance of narrow bottom line corporate marketplace values over human values and common sense, and by the incompetence and carelessness of the Bush Administration when confronted with an impending and unfolding national disaster.
The President, his Cabinet, and their creation, the Department of Homeland Security, are at the helm of a political party that represents the interests of big corporations and the super-rich. Their abject failure to help Hurricane Katrina evacuation, rescue, and recovery efforts is an explicit example of the core values of this base constituency in action.
But a political party that truly represents the people and their common needs, hopes, and values, cannot follow that example. It cannot emulate the Machiavellian calculations and tactics of the party of the rich and powerful that dismiss the needs of the people of an entire region of the country while dividing people against themselves using wedge issues. That is both abdication of the entire moral high ground and suicide by stupidity.
The oil and shipping industries need to contribute their share of the cost from the massive profits extracted over many years from the commonwealth. It was a man-made disaster, compounded by continuing government neglect. The American people realized at once that the Bush regime is accountable.
Let the new and future members of Congress, and all elected officials, take heed, and never forget that the United States of America is a nation governed of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Let all America now, finally, do what it can and should do for our sister and brother Americans in the deep-south Gulf Coast states, and especially New Orleans. Let us finally honor their suffering and their demonstrated courage, and their generosity and sharing in extreme protracted circumstances, and let us instruct our elected representatives to help all Americans return and rebuild their lives and their homes.
January 15, 2007