The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Stirling Newberry - America Hit With A Clue By Four

America Hit With A Clue By Four

by Stirling Newberry
Tue Sep 6th, 2005 at 12:46:13 PDT

The effects from Katrina are going to be spread over many months. The devastation in the areas hit by the storm directly will take years to repair. New Orleans has question marks over its future, and much of the gulf coast in Mississippi has been hammered hard.

The response to the disaster was pathetic. All of Whitewashington is gearing up to hide the simple naked fact that America was, for the second time in the Bush tenure, caught unprepared. We are unprepared politically, economically and socially. The lesson is this, if leadership is not accoutable after disaster, the next stop is catastrophe.

Let me cover the bases.

[While you read you might want to listen to Katrina's Raindroplet Rag]

First Base: Politically things are FEBAR

Dean blasted Bush, as have many others. But the reality is that Bush should not have been in the position of absolute power. The Chimperial Presidency is the product of a top to bottom corrupt culture, and an opposition party which does not disrupt the pork-u-pump government, because too many of its members seem to be content with taking some of the run off from the overflowing river whose source is on K-Street.

Politically there is no accountability, as Whitewashington is now in full gear to shift the discussion to the fourth person and to that past tense where no one was at fault. "Mistakes were made", and like hurricanes they just appeared out of nowhere and disappeared. It isn't just FEMA that is broken down, it is the entire infrastructure and appropriations system. You probably read this stellar run down of the problem in the Washington Post. Punchline, it was originally written, in July

The idea that a collection of careerists parcelling out candy can run a country has been roundly disproved. We must have a Department of Domestic Affairs to make sense of the public capital process.

The chaos and confusion in the executive branch were no surprise. The lazy-fair attitude that has been displayed by government departments resulted from a lack of leadership. Already stories of how individuals in agencies and in the military were ready to do their jobs, but the top put red tape and bureaucracy in the way. Like an insurance company loathe to pay, or a money losing corporation that requires approval from the top for even the smallest purchase, barriers to and hinderances to initiative and action are endemic. This is not isolated, the same kinds of foul ups, road blocks and run arounds were present before 911, when memo after memo screamed for action. While some responsible members are calling for real hearings, expect them to get rerooted to a Lie11 style commission.

Simon Rosenberg has it right, "Let's Roll" needs to be applied to some heads on Bush's domestic security team.

Let's be honest, a 500 mile wide category five hurricane managed to sneak up on the United States and get strategic surprise. Obviously there weren't enough registered Republicans in New Orleans

But this is mirrored by a legislative branch that was also on vacation, shaking hands and holding hearings on the "death tax" while Katrina swirled in the gulf. A legislative branch controlled, not merely by one one party, but by one faction of one party. A legislative branch that cannot investigate its own members, let alone the executive branch. Republicans say government doesn't work, the evidence is that Republicans in government don't work, and Republican government doesn't work. While the right-wing is crying for "privatization", this is cheerleading for failures, what we had was a privatized response. This amounted to bailing New Orleans out with thimbles.

The political culture in the states also leaves much to be desired. While Gov. Blanco was willing to push and take the initiative, the evidence is that she threw her weight into a mass of jello. While FEBAR is about to become an acronym - the states of Mississippi and Louisiana are going to have to take a hard look at how they have neglected the people's business.

Bush may swagger, but that is only because he is drunk and paying attention only to Iraq. The "tough decisions" aren't being made.

Second Base: Economically we are throwing money at millionaires

The Republican leadership has told people that if taxes are lower, they will have more money to spend. This is simply not true. If everyone has more money, as any good monetarist will tell you, prices just go up. What's happening is that money that should be spent on building levees, roads and public investment, is buying brass at corporate offices. You don't get a tax cut, it passes through your bank account on the way to Wal*Mart, Mobil and offshore banks in the Cayman Islands.

We saw a massive spike in gasoline prices from Katrina. While that spike is now easing, and the developed nations have dumped strategic oil reserves into the supply pipeline, this is a temporary state of affairs. At present rates of increase in demand, by 2007, there will not be a drop of spare capacity in the world gasoline supply. That means that what Katrina brought for a weekend, will be here all summer.

What was the response? The Fed dumped free money into the system. Wall Street wagged its tail, but the reality is that high oil prices are a stealth tax from bad economic policy.

People have assumed that the old system would die slowly, that people at the edges would be crowded out, and that "fisherman's boots" would apply - push others down to stay afloat. But systems don't die slowly, they crash and burn. The industries that have stayed unionized - automobiles and airlines in particular - are getting hammered by energy prices. And housing will too soon enough.

The economy is also not flexible enough to shift. People instead simply lined up and paid the price for oil, since the alternative was not driving. This means that the Republican leadership's call for refineries will do nothing, because it will simply drive down prices in the short term. This will mean more demand, not more spare capacity. We are spinning our wheels.

The release of reserves means that we are on the death spiral of this monetary order, as the increasing gold tension signaled trouble in the late 1960's.

Third Base: Socially, it's a dog eat dog world. And your middle name is "Alpo"

The images of rats and dogs eating dead American citizens shocked even the most jaded. This was a disaster that created Bangladesque fatalities and effects - only it happened here. And the results fell largely on our untouchables, people who are warehoused at the margins of society, in tombs for the living. This ramshackle reality turned New Orleans into one vast necropolis.

And it isn't just in response to Katrina that crypto-racism is making a come back. The "Minuteman movement" shows that there are those who believe there is nothing wrong with the economy that shooting a few destitute Mexicans won't solve. Chertoff agrees: he got an 11% increase in Coast Guard appropriations, and directed it at armed boats. Seems like he thinks he can shoot hurricanes.

In 2001 I warned people that we were "riding this bucket all the way down". The bucket hit the bottom for thousands on the gulf coast. What this should tell everyone who can use a television remote is what is waiting for them if there isn't a drastic change of direction. However, Americans are not yet ready to face the fact that they went on permanent vaction somewhere around 1984. While some people have awakened to this, and Katrina stories are going to be baseball bats in debates for years to come, it is not yet enough.

Home Plate: It is time for Americans to step up to it.

Katrina has given us a preview of what happens to an unprepared America: disaster strikes, and it is compounded by a flailing ineffectual response. Those who failed in their duty are promoted and rewarded, so that they can do it again. Meanwhile Bush goes back to his court packing exercise and shipping America to Swiss bank accounts one trillion dollars at a time. Gas prices spike - but the next time, they won't come down again in a few days, but will hover there for months. The world edges closer to a global slowdown while the privileged get protection and padding.

It's time for us to realize that this is not merely god playing dice with the weather, but the edge of a coming storm. This is only a 3 day trailer of what will probably be the summer blockbuster of 2006 or 2007.

What do we need to do? Right now it looks like Congress will spend some money, see that the flood waters and high gas prices have subsided, and go back to deciding what bunch of Darwin deniers are going to run our school systems. There isn't going to be change, people who can ignore a monster hurricane off the coast can ignore monster deficits, global warming, science and economic decay. Particularly since they don't have many friends found floating face down in the water.

America needs relief, recovery and reconstruction. Or rather, we are going to need them a great deal more in 2007, which is the first chance we have of really changing course. And they are going to be desperate necessities come 2009. Only a progressive leadership in government speaking for a progressive majority of Americans can turn this game around. We may all want there to be an FDR or Abraham Lincoln out there someplace, but unless he has a tide of people behind him, in Congress, in the states, and in the public - his hands will be tied.


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