Democratic Underground

For Want of a Nail

September 3, 2005
By punpirate

With every seemingly simple calamity, there is a complex chain of events leading up to it. In the case of Katrina, the hurricane which has ruined much of the Gulf Coast, left many of its inhabitants homeless and taken the lives of many others, it will be a long time before that chain of events will be known.

There will be calls for investigations, by Congress, by the legislatures of the affected Southern states; perhaps, grudgingly, there even will be a Presidential commission to recommend ways to prevent such a disaster in the future.

Make no mistake - this is a disaster of near-incalculable proportions. What will these investigations and commissions find? That it was a disaster, and maybe little more than that.

The obvious reasons have already been discussed in the media, even as bodies drift aimlessly through the waterlogged streets of New Orleans - cuts in the budget for levee improvements in New Orleans, National Guard troops stationed half a world away instead of waiting in readiness to respond to emergencies in their own states, scientific studies on hurricane defenses abandoned for lack of money, budget cuts to the agencies responsible for preparedness and first response, shortages of personnel and the means to move them effectively to where they are needed.

All these things and more will be discussed in minutae, dissected into their component parts, voluminous reports will be written and then those reports will be discussed and dissected, without ever getting to the fundamentals of the problem. One of those fundamentals is prized by the Bush administration as a major policy, though it is carefully hidden from public view.

Its roots go back to the days when stevedores unloaded ships on Mississippi docks by hand and mule-drawn wagons carried those goods away, the so-called Gilded Age, when robber barons believed it was their due to have government work for them, and all the taxes they were willing to pay for the privilege were the bribes they paid to the likes of Mark Hanna.

Eventually, Franklin Roosevelt brought about the New Deal, and the robber barons were, if not forced into penury, at least brought under control. Then, Ronald Reagan found his way to the Presidency, and opened the doors of government to a new generation of robber barons. Reagan's only maxim was that "government can't solve problems - it is the problem." By that, he meant that it cost too much and it interfered with what they call "bidness" in Texas. He wanted big tax cuts for the wealthy and a reduction in not only regulation of business, but government oversight of business as well.

In return, Reagan left us with his White House running secret, illegal armies overseas, a near-tripling of the national debt in eight years, the blossoming savings and loan debacle, along with the largest defense procurement scandal in the country's history.

Reagan also left the country with the belief that old-fashioned self-reliance was a virtue (unless one was a corporation in need of government relief). By the time Reagan left office, a huge cottage industry of right-wing think tanks and media pundits were in place, extolling Saint Ronnie's virtues and furthering the aims of the very wealthy, corporate and individual, in this country, all the while using the government to promote their ideas and policies.

The Bush administration, advised by these same Rasputins, has taken this attitude to a new level of disdain for government. It has been making a determined effort, through funding cuts, through mismanagement and cronyism, to actually make the government incapable of functioning as intended.

Let's look at Bush's record in this regard. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, the most extensive, sophisticated and most expensive air defense system in the world - funded and operated entirely by taxpayer support - failed utterly. It did not just work imperfectly. It failed to operate at all.

When, in the days following those attacks on New York City, the EPA discovered that the health hazards were enormous, it was not allowed to operate as intended. Its findings were suppressed and its actions to protect public health were effectively halted.

In the run-up to Bush's desired war against Iraq, the country's combined intelligence services were thwarted in their attempt to provide accurate information to the White House and Congress. These services, including the CIA, the NSA and the DIA, were completely undone by a few civilians deep inside those agencies determined to publicize the false information provided by someone with the horrendously accurate codename, "Curveball." Every justification for the war was false and misleading, and through the efforts of a few Bush people, the intelligence services were rendered impotent, inoperative and bereft of public trust. Yet another essential of government now does not function as intended.

Now, in the past week, FEMA is bound inside the bureaucratic tangle of the Department of Homeland Security and is being administered by a political appointee, Michael Brown. Of Brown, Paul Begala said on Crossfire on Aug. 16, 2004:

Speaking about the president, the head of the federal emergency management agency today said that it could take weeks to search through all the debris and find all the victims of Hurricane Charley in Florida. Of course, one of President Bush's first moves as president was to fire James Lee Witt, the disaster relief professional who had turned FEMA from a basket case to showcase.

Mr. Witt was replaced by George W. Bush's campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, who was in turn replaced by another political hack, Michael Brown, whose prior experience with disasters consisted of serving as a Republican staffer in the disaster of the Oklahoma legislature.

FEMA is not operating as it might because it, like other parts of government under Bush, is designed not to work properly. The intent is to make the government not work on behalf of the public.

This seeming incompetence is designed into the government Bush built. It is an intrinsic part of a plan to alienate the public from the government, to set the public against its government and justify further cuts in all budgets of government except defense spending, and to shovel the country's collective misery into the too-small hands of private charities - as was the case in the Gilded Age.

When it comes time to rebuild the Gulf Coast, and to restore the birthplace of America's only native musical genre, there will be national relief for insurance companies. There will be national relief (in the country's interest, of course) for the oil companies' losses in production and refining capacity. There will be money appropriated or loaned to real estate developers. There will be a little money sent to Bush's favored "faith-based" charities.

But, the poor will still be poor - and homeless and jobless. There will be no national call to raise the minimum wage. There will be no national outcry for a government effort to train the most disadvantaged in the region for work doing the tasks of clean-up, environmental hazard mitigation and the reconstruction of destroyed cities and towns. That would be too much like FDR's WPA and CCC programs. That would be too much like the government helping the citizens it represents.

What George W. Bush might consider now is that nail. Before Hurricane Katrina, the nail was the few millions required for levee protection, disaster planning, etc. Now, that nail is the way in which his government deals with the people most in need.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, the horse was lost, the battle was lost and the king was lost, as well. One would think the imperially-inclined George Bush, the Yale history major with the low-C average, might still be mindful of that deceptively insignificant nail.

punpirate is a New Mexico writer with a pocket full of nails.

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