MILLION DOLLAR BLOCKS

28 10 2012

One of the dirty open secrets about “the land of the free” is that, here in America, we have more people in our prison system than any other country in the world.  Here’s the numbers:  as of 2010, there were 2,267,000 people behind bars in America, with 4,934,000 additional Americans on probation and parole.  Fourteen million Americans are “former felons,” who will be handicapped for the rest of their lives with difficulties in being hired or receiving government assistance such as grants or loans for schooling, not to mention the shackles on their minds that all too often  from a stint in prison.

The good ol’ USA is way out in front of the number two imprisoner of human beings–Russia.  The US incarceration rate in 2009 was 743 per hundred thousand, fifty percent ahead of the Russians and Rwandans, both of which clock in at around 560 per hundred thou.  By contrast, only 71 out of every hundred thousand Norwegians is imprisoned.  In Holland, where legal marijuana sales should , according to the DEA, have precipitated a massive crime wave, the incarceration rate is 94 per thousand…hey, maybe they’re just too stoned to bother arresting people….or too high to go out and commit crimes?  And, when Republicans say they don’t want America to be like Europe, is this what they’re talking about?  Is this really a field in which we want America to be “number one”?

Ooh, but aren’t we keeping hordes of violent criminals off the streets?

No, not really.  About eight percent of the roughly two hundred thousand people in federal prison are there for violent crimes.  That’s about sixteen thousand people.  About half the roughly 1.3 million people in state prisons are in for violent crimes–that’s about 650,000 people.  And approximately a fifth of the three-quarter million individuals in local jails are there for violent crimes–that’s about a hundred and fifty thousand people.  When you add it all up, that’s slightly over a third of all prisoners locked up for violent crimes, about 816,000 out of roughly 2.25 million, with two-thirds of those in jail, about one and a half million people, locked up for non-violent, frequently “victimless,” crimes, at a cost to taxpayers–that’s you and  me–of around thirty-six billion dollars a year.

What’s a “victimless” crime?  About half of all federal prisoners are jailed for drug convictions of one kind or another–that’s a hundred thousand people.  A fifth of state prisoners have committed drug crimes–that’s about a quarter million people.  Statistics aren’t available for local jails, but that leaves us with a third of a million of the million and a half people in state and federal penitentiaries locked up for “drugs.” Read the rest of this entry »

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TRAYVON MARTIN AND THE CULTURE OF FEAR

7 04 2012

OK, today is Easter, and it’s time for the latest crucifixion news.  I just wish I had some resurrections  to report on along with them, but, alas, I don’t.  By now, it is hardly news that Trayvon Martin, unarmed and in fear for his life, was murdered in cold blood by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer who, as of this writing, has not been charged with any crime, apparently on the grounds that he acted in fear for his own  life, which, according to the “stand your ground” law promulgated in Florida and many other states, including Tennessee, by the American Legislative Exchange Council, excuses murder if you’re afraid of the person you kill. How’s that for a ‘get out of jail free” card?

When we drop back from the immediate facts of this case, it becomes another link in a long chain of black men who have been killed by whites, generally with impunity.  This chain stretches back through the many murders visited on the Civil Rights movement, to the notorious case of Emmett Till in the early 1960’s, to pogroms that destroyed entire African-American towns and neighborhoods in the twenties, to the brutal repression of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South, to slave owners’ desire to break the will of any person of color who was perceived as “uppity,” or likely to fight back against oppression, back to the Nat Turner revolt and the forced origin of African-American immigration to the Western Hemisphere–virtually every African-American’s ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Oh, but that was centuries ago.  No way our conscience could still be bothering us, right?  Yeah, right.  What in the world do they want “reparations” for?

the late Eric Perez

Let’s put Trayvon Martin’s murder in perspective, by examining some similar incidents.  Let’s start with the death of Eric Perez.  One of the ironies of life in America is that this young man with a Hispanic name looks African-American, while George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, bears a German name but looks Hispanic, not African, but still would almost certainly be discriminated against by any white racist who had the opportunity.  Poop, as they say, rolls down hill, and here’s the story of how it hit the fan for the unfortunate Eric Perez.  On July 9th of last year, 17-year old Eric was riding his bicycle after dark, and the bicycle didn’t have a light on it, so the police stopped him, frisked him, and found a small amount of marijuana.  Because Eric was still on probation for crimes committed when he was 13 (and who isn’t crazy when they’re 13?), his probation was immediately revoked, and he was taken to the West Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center.  That night, under the guise of making sure he wasn’t taking any food back to his cell, guards at the jail roughed him up, banging his head on the concrete floor.  When the dazed young man obeyed their orders to stand up, he fell and hit his head on a table.  Within a few hours, he was nauseous and hallucinating, but the guards didn’t call 911, because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of filing an incident report, and the nurse who was ostensibly responsible for after-hours medical care at the jail didn’t return the guards’ phone call.  Next morning, Eric Perez was dead, executed by neglect for the terrible crimes of riding a bicycle without a light and having a small amount of marijuana on his person–and it’s worth noting that defenders of George Zimmerman have attempted to slander Trayvon Martin by pointing out that he had been suspended from school for having a baggie with traces of marijuana in his pocket.  People, America is not Singapore.  Yet.

And what happened to the killers of Eric Perez?  Well, they lost their jobs, after five months of paid ‘administrative leave,” but they were not prosecuted, because, the Grand Jury determined, “no existing statute applies to the facts of the matter.”  Apparently, Eric’s death somehow does not fit any definition of murder, homicide, or manslaughter.  However, in an official statement,the Grand Jury did urge  “… the Florida Legislature to enact a statute that criminalizes the neglect of anyone in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.”  Just the thing Rick Scott and his Tea Party buddies in the Florida legislature will jump right up and do…not.  In a further insult to Eric’s family, the state offered $5,000 to help with burial expenses, then stopped the check, before reissuing it.  Talk about “jerking people around.”

So that’s the murder of Eric Perez–killed by prison guards because he didn’t have a light on his bike and he did have a baggie in his pocket, and might be taking food to his room.  Next, let’s look at the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, who actually did have all his ducks in a row–and was shot dead in his own home by police at point-blank range anyway.

the late Kenneth Chamberlain

At five o’clock in the morning last November, the African-American former Marine and prison guard, who was under treatment for a heart condition, rolled over in his sleep and accidentally set off a “life-aid pendant” used by many older Americans so that, wherever they are, they can alert 911 in the event of a medical emergency, and so 911 operators dispatched an ambulance and police car to see what the matter was.  Perhaps because Mr. Chamberlain lived in a public housing project, where common prejudice has it that crime is more prevalent than elsewhere,  the police were not satisfied when Mr. Chamberlain told them he was fine and declined to get out of bed and let them into his one-room home at such an early hour.  “I know my rights,” he told them, and asked them to leave.  The police, apparently, did not know theirs, and cursed at the accidental object of their unwanted attention, demanding that he let them in.   They called for reinforcements, until there were eleven officers in the hall outside the apartment, and then they broke in and tasered the unfortunate but completely innocent occupant, who was clad only in his underwear and making no attempt to resist their unlawful entry.  When tasering didn’t knock him down, one of the officers ordered the minicam on the taser shut off, and shot him twice.  The second shot killed him.  He had done no wrong. There was no contraband of any kind in his possession.  And he was dead, just like Trayvon Martin, Eric Perez, and so many before them, and,  as has all too often been the case, no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Another irony emerges in this story.  Many people, including me, have expressed concerns about the increasing intrusion of security cameras into our lives.  In this case, the entire incident was caught on tape by security cameras, not just on the taser, but in the hall of the apartment, and by an audio recorder on Chamberlain’s 911 device, which did not get turned off, giving the lie to the police story that the 5’6″ heart patient had threatened them, and for that reason they had used deadly force.  Like Trayvon Martin, Chamberlain had been on the phone as he felt his doom approach.  Chamberlain was talking to the 911 operator, pleading with authorities to call off their attack dogs–er, police officers, and letting the 911 operator know he was in fear for his life.

When I took a break from writing this story, I discovered that Chamberlain’s murderer has been identified, thanks to Democracy Now! reporter Juan Gonzalez, as Anthony Corelli, who, in spite of being indicted and about to go to trial on Federal civil rights violations in another case, was still on duty.  And I also learned that the white New Orleans police who shot peaceful, unarmed African-Americans trying to escape the city after Hurricane Katrina have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms….seven years after the fact.  I wish I could take some satisfaction in that, but I can’t.  What we are dealing with here is widespread and systemic, and punishing individuals for acting on the basis of conditioning that was instilled in them when they were too young to think, and that they were never encouraged to question, is not an answer.  Jail time is unlikely to change anybody’s mind, and more likely to simply breed deeper fear and resentment.  We need a more creative solution, a way to transform people.  Except in rare cases, putting people in jail doesn’t transform them, it deforms them even further.

I could spend the rest of this radio show, and many more, detailing the European-American-generated tragedies that have unravelled the lives of people who just happened to be born African-American.  And much has been written already about the deep cause–the seemingly insatiable European drive to conquer, exploit, convert, and control every person and acre of ground on this little blue ball we call home.  The question is not so much “what’s the problem?” as it is, “what can we do to heal this ongoing, world-wide wound?”  As a human being of pretty nearly unadulterated European descent, this is an extremely personal question for me, one that I have grappled with ever since, in my early teens, I began to become aware of just how much privilege I took for granted.

I didn’t quite realize where this story was going when I started writing it.  My head was full of the switcheroo in the early 80’s, when big corporations responded to the expansion of ecological and social justice consciousness in this country by moving their operations beyond the reach of American law, thus beginning the destruction of the middle class, leaving people less time for reflection and activism, and the linked switch from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs.  The War on Poverty was offensive to the corporatocracy because it empowered people and led them to question the status quo.  The War on Drugs changed the government’s primary focus from empowering the poor to imprisoning–and disenfranchising–them.  The U.S. prison population is now seven times what it was in 1980, despite a dropping crime rate–thank you, Ronald Reagan!  Thank you Bill Clinton!  But I digress…that story will have to wait for another time.  We’re going deeper than that.

Becoming a hippie solved some of my conflicts about being born into such a privileged situation.  The exploitation and destruction of the natural world is driven largely by clean-cut white guys in business suits, and so from an early age I did my best not to be one of those.  I can’t do anything about the color of my skin or the y chromosome in every cell of my body, but being clean-cut and wearing a necktie are two things that a white guy can abandon, and, in the process, get at least a little taste of what it’s like to be a member of the powerless, dark-skinned underclass.  And hey, all it takes is a shave, a haircut, and a suit, and you are once again indistinguishable from the oppressor class!

But being powerless has its own difficulties, especially when coupled with a desire to make the world a better place for everyone.  In the early 70’s, my fellow counterculturalists and I hoped to prevail by sheer force of numbers and the fact that we were having more fun than our square, bought-in counterparts, but time, fear, and financial fetters conspired to erode those attractions for far too many of my unindicted co-conspirators, many of whom (including, some would say, me) have taken the easy way out and accepted the privilege of our heritage.  Since the 70’s, the crisis we perceived then has only snowballed in severity, and there is no sign of any let-up.  Were we wrong to bail on the lives we could have led, to attempt the creation of a counterculture in which black men, and everyone else, young and old, need not fear for their lives, rather than to fully enter the mainstream and attempt that same work in the belly of the beast?  Was Margaret Thatcher right?  Is no alternative possible?

No.  Margaret Thatcher was wrong.  Not only is an alternative possible, it is imperative.  The only way to change a society as steeped in fear and domination as ours is to do all we can to create a real, living, breathing, wake-up-to-it-in-the-morning alternative, to the very best of our admittedly limited ability.  Patience, tolerance, and flexibility are core values for this new society, and one way to practice them is to apply them to the limitations we all have due to our deep conditioning to, and inescapable links with, the impatient, intolerant,inflexible culture that confines us.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s the only game in town, besides the one that is so afraid of its own shadow and the evil it has visited on others that it excuses the murders of innocent people whose skin happens to be the wrong color, or who happen to maybe smoke the wrong kind of cigarettes, or who happen to live in places where fossil fuels or other deadly drugs could be produced.   Our success is not certain–but if we don’t try, our failure is inevitable.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”





ETHNIC CLEANSING, AMERICAN STYLE

8 01 2006

The spotlight is no longer on New Orleans, so it should come as no surprise that the rats have been at work there. The Big Easy, once home to over three hundred thousand Americans of colour who comprised 65% of its half-million population, has an estimated thirty-five thousand black residents now, out of a total city population of around one hundred thousand.

Alphonso Jackson, President George Bush’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, told the Houston Chronicle, “Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time … New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.”

Joseph Canizaro, one of the city’s biggest developers, and now a member of New Orleans’ rebuilding commission, was quoted in England’s Manchester Guardian as saying, ”As a practical matter, these poor folks don’t have the resources to go back to our city, just like they didn’t have the resources to get out of our city. So we won’t get all those folks back. That’s just a fact. It’s not what I want, it’s just a fact.’ Mr. Canizaro, by the way, also contriubuted about $200,000 to W’s 2004 re-election campaign. Guess he’s just sentimental about missing all the darkies, ’cause you know and I know that a whiter New Orleans is likely to be a more Republican New Orleans.

Rental and hiring tactics countenanced by both the Bush junta and ostensibly Democratic governor Kathleen Blanco are contributing to this switchover. FEMA has said it will not give loans to rebuild in “flood-prone areas”–i.e., the lower ninth ward and other low-income, low elevation parts of the city. The city has hinted that it may require any rebuilding in low areas to be done on stilts, which raises the cost of rebuilding considerably. (Actually, it’s not a bad idea, just an expensive one)

Landlords have been evicting not just tenants who have become refugees, but those who have been making every effort to stay in New Orleans and pay their rent. When a court ruled against the landlords’ efforts to run thousands of summary evictions through the courts, many landlords turned to brute force, simply breaking into their evacuated rental properties and throwing their former tenants’ belongings out on the street so that they could rent the properties out at two or three times the rent they had been receiving—frequently to workers who have been brought in from out of state to do cleanup and rebuilding.

Why have they been brought in from out of state? Because the contracts for the cleanup have gone to out-of-state companies who are primarily geared to hire—let’s call them–”guest workers.” Guest workers come from outside of the United States, from places whose poverty we can barely grasp. They have learned to live on less, and part of that involves banding together to share food and housing. We did that thirty years ago and called it hippies living in communes, but this is (mostly) Latinos living in whatever they can rent. They do have a talent for something there. I knew a guy who came up from El Salvador and worked as a janitor for five years, making about the same money I was. While I barely survived, he put his sister through the University of El Salvador, so that she became a schoolteacher—and still earned less money than he did pushing a broom in America. But I digress. More on the economics of the hiring process a little later.

I just quoted two high-ranking Republicans’ view of the future of New Orleans. The city attempted to fulfill their prophecies by unilaterally beginning the demolition of over five thousand homes in the lower ninth ward. Residents have gotten a temporary restraining order to stop this. When I say unilaterally, I mean that no one was told that the remains of their home were about to be removed—it was only when the backhoes showed up that they had any idea of what was in store. That ain’t fair. Nor is it fair that, although much of the city’s public housing is habitable, it is not being opened and made available.

What irony—the good news is, unilateral demolitions have been stopped. The bad news is, more than four months after the hurricane, almost none of the 50,000 homes estimated to need demolition in New Orleans have actually been cleaned up. Maybe the 2006 hurricane season will take care of it, eh?

So, that’s the rat-infested mess. What’s the deep green perspective on it? First of all, yeah, New Orleans is a lousy place for a large city, and with a warming climate, rising sea levels and intensifying storm seasons, it is only going to get worse, even if we come up with the fourteen billion dollars (only a month and a half of military expenditures in Iraq, after all) it will take to restore the wetlands that once provided a measure of protection to southern Louisiana.

Now, I confess that I once had a vision that my life’s work could be tearing down a formerly great city and recreating wilderness where once it stood, and so to me there’s a certain environmental justice, I think, in turning big parts of New Orleans back into cypress swamps. But you don’t do that by executive fiat. You don’t move people around by strong-arming them from above. You educate them about the situation, you help them formulate plans of their own. And if they don’t want to move after all that? Well, you figure out the best way to help them stay where they’ve been, with their friends and family. Human life is about community, not consumerism.

And the way the wreckage from the storm is being cleaned up is just another pyramid scheme, just another indictment of the Bush junta. FEMA hires well-connected contractors—well connected to the Republican establishment, not well connected to the communities that need cleaning—for $24 a cubic yard, and those companies take a cut and find a subcontractor, and THOSE companies do the same thing, so that the guys who are actually doing the work are getting paid $4 a cubic yard to clean up the hurricane debris.
How big is a cubic yard? I mean sure, it’s three feet by three feet by three feet, but to put it more visually, the back of a medium size pickup truck will hold a little over two cubic yards. So, the contractors on site are getting about ten bucks a pickup load, while Kellogg, Brown, and Root is getting over fifty bucks a pickup load for doing none of the work—but you can bet they’ll be making some hefty campaign donations sooner or later. And that’s why they’re hiring Latinos to do the cleanup—the fat cats have squeezed it down to where an American couldn’t make a living doing New Orleans cleanup. Herr Bush talks about wanting to bring in guest workers to do “jobs Americans won’t do.” It’s more like bringing them in to do jobs companies don’t want to pay Americans a living wage to do. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would now be $8.85 an hour. If the minimum wage were high enough to keep full-time workers above the poverty level, nationwide it would be $9.50 an hour. Here in Nashville it would be $11.50 an hour. Is that too much to ask? How does it compare to what you make?

If I were running this program, I would be giving first priority for cleanup jobs to current and displaced New Orleans residents, and while I had them all together taking care of the dirty business on the ground, I would be educating them about the overall situation and helping them figure out what to do. There’s parameters, if you know what I mean. Housing that will withstand a category 5 or 6 hurricane in a location below sea level? Waterproof bunkers, big bucks, not for everyone. Inexpensive,simple structures that will keep you cool and dry during most tropical weather and be easy to replace when they blow away? That’s the time-honored way of living in the hurricane belt. It’s not the American way of life. But there might be something to it, eh?

music: Steve Earle, “Amerika v. 6.0”





FREE ELECTIONS, REPUBLICAN STYLE

10 12 2005

The first thing that got my attention was a story about how FEMA was stalling the Louisiana Secretary of State’s efforts to contact the dispersed population of New Orleans so that the (predominantly black, predominantly Democratic) city’s upcoming election would be truly representative—it seems that New Orleans is currently a much whiter, more Republican town than it was before Hurricane Katrina—which, by the way, was three times larger than Hurricane Camille, in 1969, the last (actually, the first) category 5 Hurricane to hit New Orleans.

And, speaking of hurricanes, I discovered that our Republican congress has declined to spend the 14 billion dollars the Army Corps of Engineers estimates it would take to restore Louisiana’s wetlands and really make New Orleans safe—they’d rather pour it down the Iraq hole, which sucks up about that much money every six weeks. Omigawd, think about that—TEN BILLION DOLLARS A MONTH FOR THE WAR IN IRAQ. Anyway, the government is not going to do what it takes to make New Orleans safe, just to make sure that all those nigras and Democrats don’t all get in a pile together again. No, sir.

FEMA cited concerns for the evacuees’ privacy as the reason they wouldn’t give Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater the current addresses of the evacuees. On the other hand, FEMA has been very helpful in letting law-enforcement agencies find out if any sex offenders from the Big Easy have landed in their towns. Don’t want none of our young children despoiled by them degenerates, nossuh. But I digress.

I started noticing that what they were doing to largely black, largely non-Republican voters in New Orleans was part of a pattern. News surfaced that the career Civil Rights lawyers in the Justice Department had not approved of either the Georgia plan to require voters to purchase an expensive photo ID, or Tom DeLay’s Texas redistricting plan (which gerrymandered the state to make six more Republican districts), but that Alberto Gonzalez Franco had gone ahead and OK’d these Republican power grabs. First he claimed the Civil Rights Division had concurred, but then he said, “The fact that there may be disagreement somewhere within the ranks doesn’t mean that the ultimate decision is the wrong decision.” Newspeak, anyone? Doublespeak?

Another Justice Department official, Mark Corallo, a Bush appointee, claimed that Gonzalez’ decisions in Texas and Georgia were “just reversing decades of liberal bias” in the Civil Rights Division. More doublespeak, eh? Thanks to NPR, by the way, for publicizing this story and providing these quotes.

In New Hampshire, former GOP national committee member James Tobin is on trial for allegedly being part of a conspiracy to jam not only Democratic Party get-out-the-vote phone banks, but a non-partisan “get-a-ride-to-the-polls” hotline. Two other people have already been convicted in this conspiracy. Do you see that pattern I’m talking about?

And then there’s Ohio. Oh, boy. The state has mostly gone over to paperless electronic voting, which Bush’s so-called “Helping America Vote Act” (which should be called “the Helping America Vote Republican Act”) is designed to push, and funny things have happened. There were some ballot reform measures which, according to polls by the conservative Columbus Dispatch, enjoyed widespread popular support—like, 2-1 in favor. They mysteriously went down to 2-1 defeats, instead, while the paper’s poll on a ballot measure supported by the state’s Republicans was accurately reflected in the vote.

Strangely, the polls were most inaccurate in districts with paperless voting, just like when John Kerry had the election stolen from him. This would seem to call for a recount, right? Guess what! Ohio’s Republican legislature is working on passing a law quintupling the cost of doing a recount , and outright forbidding anyone to challenge the results of a federal election in Ohio, period. Will this stand in court? Considering who’s appointing the judges these days, the answer is, it probably will. The bill goes even further, requiring the same kind of stringent ID standards that were labelled “Jim Crow” in Georgia, and making it easy for (frequently Republican) DA’s to prosecute people for conducting voter registration drives. Ah, the eye of the beholder….

Similar laws are being introduced in other Republican-majority states. Free elections means we’re free to elect them, right?

And where are the Democrats on this? Asleep at the switch. There needs to be hell raised about this kind of chicanery, this mockery of democracy, but the Democrats are not speaking out, not walking out, not sitting in, they’re just acting like it’s business as usual. MoveOn is not working on this. The DLC certainly isn’t. Even Dennis Kucinich doesn’t have anything to say on the subject.

We in the Green Party have a lot of great ideas about how to reinvigorate the American electoral process—opening the ballot to minority parties, instant runoff voting (in which voters get to vote for both their first and second choices), maybe even proportional representation, all tried and tested procedures that would make for a much more nuanced and lively democracy in this country. BUT the foundation of democracy is honest elections, and it looks like that’s not in the forecast.

What the Republifascists don’t understand is that, although they can steal elections, they can’t b.s. the natural world, and the natural world is catching up with them—and all the rest of us, too. More on that after this….

music:  ”Soldier of Plenty,” by Jackson Browne

Comments

The county commission here in Pleasants County,WV has chosen to go with electronic voting machines in the upcoming elections thanks to these new HAVA laws requiring modern voting techniques across the country. It hasn’t made big news locally, but I just wonder what our citizens, mainly senior citizens, are going to think next November when they have to cast their votes on Ms. Pac Man machines. We’ve always used paper ballots and I don’t know why we can’t continue to do so. http://appalachiangreens.blogspot.com
Posted by chad edwards on 12/22/2005 12:28:26 AM

There’s a movement down here that’s at least making some noise about this switch–though it seems to me the officials have their minds made up already. There will be some kind of “paper trail” on them, though, so at least that much of a dent has been made in the move to electronic voting.
Posted by brothermartin on 12/24/2005 01:12:00 AM





WHUPPED UPSIDE THE HEAD

12 09 2005

No sooner had John Bolton, acting on behalf of the Bush Junta, demanded that the United Nations delete the phrase, “respect for nature,” from the core values section of a major reform document the U.N. is drafting, than Nature responded by whupping the United States upside the head bigtime, bigtime, bigtime.

You know what I’m talking about. Hurricane Katrina. The biggest hurricane ever to come ashore—ever?–well, OK—the biggest in recorded history, the most lethal of the four category five hurricanes on record. Katrina let the United States know, in no uncertain terms, that this country is vulnerable—woundable—in ways that military preparedness and heightened security measures cannot prevent.

Certainly, there are plenty of things that could have been done to ameliorate the situation. There were plenty of railroad cars and busses available to evacuate those without their own transportation (and ironically, New Orleans’ excellent public transportation system has made it easier for people to live there and not own an automobile). Ways could have been found to assure these people that their homes and belongings would be safe from looting in their absence. And surely we have all heard by now about how the Bush Junta severely cut funding for maintaining New Orleans’ levee system (which was not even built to withstand a category 5 storm to begin with), and what in the world are the Louisiana National Guard’s HIGH WATER vehicles doing in Iraq?

You know, though, that even if everything had been done right, Katrina wasn’t the whole show, she was just an opening number. It’s still only the middle of this hurricane season, and we’ve had thirteen named storms so far—the overall average is four or five. Katrina didn’t go right over the top of New Orleans, but the next storm might—or it might hit Houston, or Mobile, or Tampa—or Miami, Norfolk, WASHINGTON, Philadelphia or New York. Not only the frequency but the intensity of hurricanes is increasing—how long will it be until we have to create a “category six” and then maybe a “category seven”? And not only is the ocean getting warmer, it’s rising….

Dennis Hastert is not my kinda guy, but I think he was right to question the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans. The city is below sea level, below the level of the Mississippi, it’s now a toxic waste cleanup site, and the river has been trying to take the Achafalaya bypass for a hundred years already. Channelization of the river for human/economic purposes has destroyed much of the network of barrier islands and marshland that used to buffer the city from storms. Maybe it’s time to let the river move, relocate New Orleans upriver to Baton Rouge, and start all over again. Maybe we can do it right this time, though I’m sure it will be done wrong if Messers. Hastert and Bush are in charge. Unfortunately they are in charge, and it looks like we may be getting a Halliburton-dominated, sanitized simulacrum of New Orleans in place of the real thing. Look for lots of eminent domain to be exercised and thousands of poor people to lose everything they had, most especially their communities.

Meanwhile, offers of aid are pouring in from around the world. We’re taking up Germany and France on their offers of fuel, but ignoring Venezuela’s offer of fuel and medical help, and of course ignoring Cuba’s offer of medical help. In case you didn’t know, Cuba has made medical aid one of its chief exports. Cuban medical personnel provide primary health care in Venezuela in exchange for petroleum for Cuba, and whenever there is a disaster in the world, Cuban doctors and nurses are there to help out.

And, by the way, Ivan, a category 5 hurricane, went over Cuba last year, bringing 160 mile-an-hour winds and a 20-foot storm surge, slightly stronger than Katrina. The Cubans evacuated a million and a half people—in a country where private cars are the exception, not the rule—and nobody died. People were allowed to take pets and prize possessions with them, and there was no looting. Ah, these backwards, third-world, communist countries. They’ve got a thing or two to learn from us, don’t they?

So now the spinning and the finger-pointing have begun, along with aid to the victims of this human-assisted natural disaster. There have been demands that various federal officials be fired for malfeasance and incompetence, but we have a government that really appreciates malfeasance and incompetence, so don’t expect any action there—and even if they did get rid of someone, maybe for not being venal enough, the Bush Junta would find an even more obnoxious replacement for them—look at trading Ashcroft for Gonzalez, look at the Supreme Court—Bush nominates good Nazi John Roberts as an associate justice, ignites a storm of well-justified criticism, and responds by—nominating Roberts for CHIEF justice. THAT’S justice? Since when do criminals get to select their judges? What really makes me gag is that a lot of Democrats seem to be willing to go along with giving us a Supreme Court that’s way out in right field.

The Bush junta is probably feeling a bit relieved by the news shift blown in by Hurricane Katrina. Iraq is out of the headlines, Cindy Sheehan is out of the headlines, and the Justice Department’s decision not to challenge Georgia’s new voter registration rules, which some are calling the reintroduction of Jim Crow, didn’t even make it into the headlines. The Republifascists get to try and look like good guys, if they can keep George from sticking his foot in his mouth babbling about rebuilding Trent Lott’s house, and if the skinny on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Kafkaesque rules doesn’t get out too far—they will only mail you the forms you need to your home address, but what if you’ve been evacuated due to a—duh, emergency, and can’t go home because the government won’t let you?

And of course all these wonderful billions of dollars they’re so magnanamously voting to spend are going to be borrowed from the Chinese. At least the Junta had the sense not to try and repeal the estate tax at the same time. Maybe the estate tax repeal is now off the table for good. Maybe. Just maybe. And maybe this whomp upside America’s head will keep the government too occupied to jump off on Iran like they were working up to. Maybe. Just maybe. Stay tuned.








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