Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dies Irae

Now a hurricane bears down on Houston.* Shelters from Beaumont to Corpus Christi, shelters that housed evacuees from Louisiana, are being emptied in one of nature's great unintended moments of irony. Worst case scenario is a Cat 4 storm that strikes Houston dead on and destroys 600,000 homes. And if anything close to that happens, this will again be seen to be true:

Because let's be honest. Disaster preparedness is mostly for the middle and upper classes. It is for the informed and the educated, the credit carded and the disposable incomed, the newspaper subscribers and registered voters and people who keep a spare pair of Timberland boots in the trunk of the Range Rover, just in case.

As Katrina proved in no uncertain terms, if you're poor or from the lower classes and a massive natural disaster strikes, you are, of course, screwed, given how you do not have extra money, no cash reserves to spend on motels or plane tickets, no credit card numbers to keep written down in a safe place. You do not have a car. You do not own a cell phone. You do not have wealthy relatives in Miami with a few spare rooms in their beach house. When disaster hits, you simply do not have anywhere to go.

All of which means the Bush administration will consider you, essentially, trash, disposable, invisible -- except for when the TV cameras find you floating face down in the flooded street and suddenly Bush's poll numbers collapse and Dubya comes on to pretend he understands your plight and will have his mom send you cookies and a warm condescending hug ASAP.

See, they just don't know. Or, for that matter, care. The government and the GOP in particular, they just have no idea of true American reality, of how the poor actually live, of the vicious inequities of consumer culture (which their nasty domestic policies only exacerbate), the brutal gap between the haves and the have-nots, between Lands' End and Salvation Army, between stock portfolio and food stamps, between stashing away an emergency block of Brie and a case of Sterling cab for when the Big One strikes, and hoping you don't get stabbed at the emergency shelter over a candy bar.

This is, after all, what most baffled the snide and quietly racist GOP leadership: Why didn't all those poor people in New Orleans just leave? Why didn't they hop in the Escalade and fill the tank with a hundred bucks' worth of Unocal premium and hightail it outta New Orleans and head for a Travelodge and watch the disaster on the Panasonic big-screen TV with the rest of us, like any good upstanding citizen? What the hell was wrong with them?
It doesn't have to be this way. Cuba reacts quite differently, as I noted earlier:

Cuba's leaders go on TV and take charge," said Valdes. Contrast this with George W. Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina. The day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Bush was playing golf. He waited three days to make a TV appearance and five days before visiting the disaster site. In a scathing editorial on Thursday, the New York Times said, "nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."

"Merely sticking people in a stadium is unthinkable" in Cuba, Valdes said. "Shelters all have medical personnel, from the neighborhood. They have family doctors in Cuba, who evacuate together with the neighborhood, and already know, for example, who needs insulin."

They also evacuate animals and veterinarians, TV sets and refrigerators, "so that people aren't reluctant to leave because people might steal their stuff," Valdes observed.
On Thursday, Cuba's National Assembly sent a message of solidarity to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It says the Cuban people have followed closely the news of the hurricane damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and the news has caused pain and sadness.

The message notes that the hardest hit are African-Americans, Latino workers, and the poor, who still wait to be rescued and taken to secure places, and who have suffered the most fatalities and homelessness. The message concludes by saying that the entire world must feel this tragedy as its own.

"The entire world," of course, excluding some portion of the population of the United States who, like Michal Brown, will always blame the victim.

It is not a matter of absolutes, it is a matter of values. Which do we value? Property? Or people?

Our secret is only a secret to ourselves. As Maureen Dowd asked: "Who are we if we can't take care of our own?"

Who are we, indeed?

*(which is why such long posts are piling up on each other. You may not hear from me for awhile.)

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