Sheila Samples: No Mercy
By Sheila Samples
"Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment."
~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
A year after triumphantly declaring that work in the Gulf Coast region would be "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen," after promising that "Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity, but also in character and justice," George Bush had the audacity to return to New Orleans.
Bush wore the same blue photo-op shirt of a year ago, with sleeves rolled up to show he meant business. With his trademark nod and wink, he said he accepted full responsibility for the government's breakdown in responding to the devastation -- a breakdown which cost many additional lives. After adding that he'd learned his lesson, Bush then launched into his incoherent, all-too-familiar babble that help is on the way.
As I listened to Bush articulate (sic) his "vision" of a "bright dawn" emerging over New Orleans -- watched him peer off in the distance at the brigades of Saints that only he could see "marching home," I wondered if he gave any thought to the bodies of the lost still lying trapped in the debris so close to where he was standing. I wondered if the desperate families who remain broken and scattered throughout the country could see his lofty vision through their tears as they received notices from FEMA that their housing benefits are terminated, their utilities assistance cut off, their insurance claims denied.
In the last five years, George Bush and the greedy corporate mobsters who surround him have taught people throughout the world a lot about prosperity, character, justice -- and about racism. Those innocents who have a right to expect justice in their lives and character in their leaders hit free-market's blind-eyed and cold-shouldered wall in New Orleans. Too late, too many learned that, in George Bush's world, prosperity is for those who can afford it. In George Bush's world there is no safe haven for the poverty stricken or the dispossessed if they are Black -- especially if they are Black.
When Bush speaks, I never know if I'm laughing or crying. I keep hearing strange hyena-like barks of laughter, yet tears stream down my cheeks. Bush is big on role-playing wherever he goes, and -- disregarding the anguished cries of American citizens still pleading for help -- he said his role in New Orleans is "to encourage entrepreneurship." He's excited about his Go Zone legislation, which will give corporations and small businesses tax incentives to invest in the area. Bush said, "the people of this region are looking to corporate America to see if they're here for the long haul...New Orleans is going to rise again," he told business leaders, "and by planting your corporate flag here now and contributing to this city's rebirth, you'll gain some loyal customers when times get better..."
Yep. Plant them corporate flags, boys, 'cause the south's gonna rise again. In all its racist glory.
Strange that the general consensus seems to be FEMA stumbled and fell into the pit of its own incompetence. I hate to be a party pooper, but there's no way any government agency could be so woefully inept on every front. When you consider that martial law was declared immediately; that police, miltary, and armed contractor troops were immediately on site -- not to retrieve bodies floating in the water nor to bury those who lay dead in the streets, but to keep the hungry and thirsty victims from stealing food and water -- when you consider that from 8,000 to 10,000 residents of the St. Bernard Housing Project were immediately locked out of their homes, and FEMA immediately built a formidable iron fence around the project and padlocked it so they could not return; that all national, even worldwide, efforts to help were seamlessly blocked -- it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that FEMA's response was immediate, and thorough as well.
For example, in the Sept. 5, 2005 Daily Kos, diarist DavidNYC posted just a few of what he said were FEMA's "rank failures." Could be, but after turning away experienced firefighters, turning back WalMart supply trucks, preventing the Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel, blocking the Red Cross from delivering food to starving refugees, barring morticians from assisting with the dead, turning back a five-mile-long, 500-boat citizen flotilla which arrived to take the stranded, the injured, the ill and the frail to safety, refusing to use a Navy ship in the area with a 600-bed hospital and medical staff on board, infuriating Chicago's mayor by refusing massive aid while accepting just one truck, and ordering first responders "not to respond," I'd have to say it's possible to conclude that FEMA was up and running and Michael "Brownie" Brown did, indeed, do a heckuva job.
This is America. We don't withhold food and water from starving citizens. We don't turn our backs on human beings in this country who are pleading for help, drowning -- crying out for mercy... Or so we thought. However, if the onslaught and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina taught us nothing else, it is that the middle and lower segments of our society are little more than collateral damage when the destruction of their lives and property serves a political agenda...
The glee with which pundits, media propagandists and politicians pounced on the opportunity offered by the Katrina disaster to rid the city of its poverty population, especially those who owned homes on valuable real estate, is sickening. Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Richard Baker chortled to lobbyists about the more than 1,700 people killed and hundreds of thousands of others displaced, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert agreed. With breathtaking indifference to the plight of property owners and displaced families, Hastert said, "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level....It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."
It is obvious that the "bright dawn" Bush sees rising over the Big Easy is, in reality, a "white dawn" -- a smaller, whiter city with fewer poor folks. In their brilliant synopsis of the sheer opportunistic evil permeating New Orleans reconstruction, Adolph Reed and Stephen Steinberg write in the Black Commentator, "...the Housing Authority of New Orleans has shut down its public-housing operations, and informed landlords of people assisted by federal rent vouchers that government rent subsidies for impacted units have been suspended indefinitely."
The authors point out the obvious -- "If public housing and affordable housing in New Orleans are not rebuilt, if rent subsidies are withheld, then what 'choice' do people have but to relocate elsewhere? The certain result will be 'a smaller and stronger New Orleans,' depleted of its poverty population."
Thus, if the government has anything to do with it, those airlifted and taken by bus from the area, families split, parents separated from their children, will relocate elsewhere -- permanently. They are no longer welcome in a city where not Saints, but private corporations, developers and Bush's beloved "entrepreneurs" are marching in...
At least one person was a bit uneasy about the prospect of so many evacuees relocating in her state, even if they were better off. Former first lady Barbara Bush, the current president's mother, looked at the black sea of humanity packed into the relentless heat of the Houston Astrodome, and commented, "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them."
Yes. Being crammed into an arena in unfamiliar surroundings with no food, water or possessions is just another ho-hum day in the life of the poor, and always good for a chuckle, isn't it? Is there anything about the demons and trolls who run this country that is not totally incomprehensible, raging mad -- desperately absurd? Not a single one appears to possess the character -- the ethical "gravity" it would take to bring them down to reality from their fantastical delusions.
Which brings us back to FEMA. Bush said FEMA had learned its lesson and would be "ready" for the next disaster. No doubt. The next time Bush declares martial law, Halliburton's KBR should have the detention facilities, for which it received a $385 million contract in January, ready and waiting. According to a KBR release, the camps call for preparing for "an emergency influx of immigrants or to support the rapid development of new programs" in the event of other emergencies, such as "a national disaster." Under emergency plans already in existence, the power exists to suspend the Constitution and turn over the reins of government to FEMA. State and local governments will be under military control.
Is there hope for American citizens like those in New Orleans whose lives have been, continue to be, destroyed by cruel indifference? Yes, of course, but it will take citizens like you and me to stand up for what we know is right, to repair our shredded Constitution, and breathe new life into our comatose Bill of Rights.
We were warned every step of the way. We have been insulted and deceived, our courts dismantled, our Congress neutered, our children murdered in an illegal, genocidal halocaust, our elections stolen, our tax dollars wasted. Today, we are stranded on our own rooftops, pleading for a November 2006 rescue.
Well, help is not on the way. It is up to us. We must check the voting records of every single Congressperson and of every single Senator -- Republican and Democrat. Those who violated their oath to protect the U.S. Constitution from enemies within must be shown no mercy. They are devoid of character and of virtue. In concert with the man in the blue photo-op shirt with the sleeves rolled up, they maliciously turn the other way while sending American citizens to their deaths. They are disloyal -- treasonous. Together, they have disgraced this great nation. They must go.
Only then will the wounds inflicted from New York to New Orleans to Iraq begin to heal.