Saturday, September 03, 2005

This Is Not America 

So now we all know the dirty and horrific truth is that our government has no effective plan to deal with a major domestic catastrophe.

If it did, thousands of National Guardsmen would have been paratrooping into New Orleans and the rest of the worst-hit areas by Tuesday morning, each one with a case of bottled water and a bag of Happy Meals strapped to his back. The Bush administration's failure of leadership has been so catastrophic that even right-wing hacks like Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough have pointed their fingers at Washington and more or less said, "What the fuck?"

I know I'm not the first to vent, and I'm certainly not the most eloquent. But as someone who lives a few blocks away from the Hudson River, who travels through the Lincoln Tunnel twice a day, who works in midtown Manhattan, and who stood at the Hoboken ferry dock and watched with my own eyes as the first tower collapsed four years ago next week, I feel less safe than ever. Clearly, the Homeland Security Department is not prepared to deal with a worst-case scenario like this.

The fact that the Bush administration cut funding that could have protected New Orleans from this, and that Speaker Hastert has publicly wondered aloud whether we should even bother to rebuild the place, and that the FEMA head dude who couldn't even hold down a job running the International Arabian Horse Association had no clue about the thousands of refugees at the Convention Center until a member of the press mentioned it to him...ok, I'm out of breath already. Most of you know all of this, if you are the sort of person who would care to. Here are the numbers, if you haven't seen them. Though he softened his stance somewhat after some help finally began to materialize, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's Thursday night comments stand as the most courageous and honest statement anyone has made in the wake of all this.

Anyway, yes, give to the Red Cross, despite the fact that it's an organization formerly run by Elizabeth Dole. Or give to Oxfam America, or maybe even the at-least-formerly-corrupt United Way; I don't know. That's probably the best most of us can do in the short term.

Though it won't immediately help anyone stranded on the roof of their apartment complex or standing barefoot in a pile of human feces outside the Superdome, music business sage Bob Lefsetz has a better idea, one that makes a whole lot of sense for our society moving forward.

Bob is a no-bullshit veteran of the rock & roll industry whose mailing list is read by most of the biz big shots, as well as some of its worker bees, like me. His numerous columns on the changing nature of the music business boldly challenge the record labels to think in new ways, particularly to embrace online file-sharing and simply monetize it. He also often writes about rock & roll new and old with a passion and personal touch rarely read in most modern music mags. He doesn't dabble in politics all that much, but when he does, he usually gets it right.

In a message to his mailing list Friday night, Lefsetz called out this administration for its inability to take responsibility for this tragedy, pointing out that Bush's plea for Americans to contribute to charities misses the point. We don't need charities; as Bob says, "We need a government." With Mr. Lefsetz's kind permission, I reprint his Friday night column here in its entirety.

Driving in Santa Monica earlier today I heard George Bush on the radio. He said to send cash. To the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

I want to send cash. But I want to send it to the government.

The head of FEMA took the right wing position yesterday. He blamed the predicament of those in New Orleans on themselves. They just didn't follow instructions. They needed to LEAVE when warned.

But it's not easy to leave if you're dirt poor and have no transportation. I was just about ready for some Republican to tell those in New Orleans to HELP themselves. Isn't that their position? Your life situation is of your own doing? And you should prepare for the inevitable disaster? By saving?

That's not very Christian.

My understanding is Christianity is about being compassionate, helping your brother.

Although I share those values, I don't happen to be a Christian. So, I'm not exactly happy with placing all charity in the hands of a religious organization. I'd rather place my faith in the government.

We need a government. That's what the tragedy and lawlessness in New Orleans evidences. We need a police force. And services.

Services. They don't come free. You've got to pay for them. And you do this through TAXES!

The Republicans have succeeded in making "tax" a dirty word. To the point where nobody can run for office on a platform of increasing individual financial liability to the government. What do they say? It's YOUR MONEY? We don't want to take it from you?

Well, why don't they then say you now won't get services. That's what taxes give you, a government that renders services.

I'm gonna let you in on a secret. You can't spend money without wasting it. It can be simple. You can buy the wrong paper for your printer, one that doesn't render the proper finished product. But does that mean you should shut your business down, stop printing, because you blew $3.50?

If the government begins a program, money will be wasted. It's INHERENT in the process. But that doesn't mean we should eliminate all programs. We should do the best we can to eliminate waste, but we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The individualist philosophy that has invaded out country has lowered our quality of life. Let's not pay for education in the inner city, we don't live there. Then again, who ends up doing the work in your neighborhood, the stuff you don't want to do?

I've been paying insurance on my domicile for THIRTY YEARS! I've never collected once. But I keep paying, fearful a disaster COULD take place. That's how reasonable people run their lives. We think about consequences. But we can't protect against ALL disasters. I don't have a stockpile of groceries in my house, of medicines, if an earthquake occurs, I'm counting on the government to take care of me, at least get me through. That's why I'm paying income taxes and taxes on a whole host of other things.

I'm happy to pay a percentage of my earnings for services, for protection against disaster. It's an insurance policy just like the one I have on my house.

I want to drive the streets knowing that potholes will be filled in a reasonable time.

I want bridges inspected so they don't collapse when I'm on them.

I want education funded so people can get reasonable jobs and not become drug addicts and a scourge on society. Making me fearful every time I leave my house.

I want to pay for not only law and order, but a better place for ALL of us to live. I want to know there's a safety net for those hit by misfortune that is unforeseeable, whether it be a hurricane, earthquake or medical problem.

Contrary to what the rich believe, flying in private aircraft, vacationing in private enclaves, living in spacious apartments with doormen, we're all in this together. And if the poor people weren't buying your product, you wouldn't HAVE these creature comforts.

Screw collecting for charity. Raise taxes tomorrow. On ALL of us. Because we're all going to be affected by this tragedy. Just watch the price of gasoline.

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