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The costs of rebuilding

September 6th, 2005 · No Comments

I’ve been waiting to read what Ron Silliman would have to say about Katrina for a week. And, sure enough, sharp as usual, and calling on the citizenry as a whole to look at the long-term consequences of an underfunded government, and of our shared responsibility for it — the consequence of the erosion over the last thirty years or so of a sense of the commons as something we’re all a part of.

In the 1970s, a very evil man by the name of Howard Jarvis started the tax revolt that has driven the political right’s economic platform from Ronald Reagan — the president who claimed that government was the problem, not the solution — to George W. In between, more than a few others, such as Bill Clinton, have found it convenient to pander to the same general forces. All governmental institutions in the U.S., regardless of level or purpose, are underfunded. We have troops in Iraq buying armor with their own meager funds. We have a space program today that couldn’t safely land a man on the moon if it tried. We have a president who cut flood relief funds for New Orleans by 44 percent. In the 27 years since California put into place Proposition 13, it has seen its education programs — the very state institution on which California’s wealth has been built — nearly starved to extinction.

The disaster in New Orleans was not unforeseeable. But nobody has ever put the resources in place that would be capable of responding to something on this scale, even if it were done correctly. That it was done badly only exacerbates the catastrophe that was lurking all along.

It’s not just the politicians here who are to blame. It’s the fearful, greedy, inner tyrant in every one of us. Every politician — and every voter — who ever voted for a tax cut has blood on their hands this week. Those who have built careers on this may have a little more, as do those who have funded them, but it’s a problem for which we all have to take responsibility. The stench of it is the smell of death rising up from southern Louisiana & Mississippi, rubbing our own noses in our collective handiwork.

Tags: General

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