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Monday, September 12, 2005

The Truth About America

Leslie Goldberg writes: It is two weeks after Hurricane Katrina — our second September 11. On September 11, 2001, the world changed drastically: A veil was pulled away from our eyes, and we saw this terrible schism between ourselves and the entire Arab world, between our religion and their religion. A xenophobic boil of anger and fear that was already growing in America exploded when those airplanes flew into those buildings — our buildings, our people.

Since then, a murderous, vengeful American rage has been loosed on the world. A recent news report indicates that American "contractors" in Iraq are randomly shooting at innocent Iraqis, and there's no accountability. Suspected terrorists are locked up — without trials or representation or even being charged — in our installations in Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States. America, once the well-scrubbed, good-intentioned, gap-toothed farmboy, now looks like Scarface in leather gloves about to administer torture.

And now, in the wake of Katrina, another veil is pulled on another terrible schism in America: Rich white against poor black.

An Unimaginable Reality

The scene was almost unthinkable: Thousands of poor, black Americans, two-thirds women and children, imprisoned in an indoor stadium with no food, no water, no toilets, no order of law, unbearable heat in utter darkness, while the federal government dithered. The same thing was going on in the New Orleans convention center, and the national government didn't even know those people were there.

A rich, white president who exercises an hour a day so that he can be "crisp," and who vacations five weeks a year even in time of war, looks out his plane window to see what is probably the country's worst natural disaster and the country's worst humanitarian disaster. But he's so far up he can't see or hear the screams of the poor, the sick, the mentally incapacitated, the elderly and the children who are dying below. And it's painfully obvious to everyone that the president doesn't care to hear or see the anguish. And it's painfully obvious to everyone that most of the people suffering below are black.

America let them down — to use a favorite phrase of the vice president — big-time.

The Price of Tax Cuts

And now there has been a frenzy of donations to the Red Cross. Please excuse my jaundiced view, but I wonder how many people prefer to have a nice, warm, satisfied feeling that comes from writing a $100 check, instead of feeling guilt over having refused to support taxation.

Over and over Bush has promised lower taxes, and throughout his political career he has delivered that in spades — certainly for the rich.

Thanks to cost-cutting, money for FEMA wasn't there. The agency, as aptly demonstrated on national TV, is a shell. Who cared if you appointed an idiot with virtually no relevant experience to run the thing? There was very little to run.

So America, you don't want to pay taxes? Here's what it looks like.

Barbara Bush had it right: "These people were underprivileged before." It was obvious that most of the victims on television, many of them missing teeth, hadn't had the benefit of dental care or adequate medical care. Many looked terribly overweight, a sign of poor, not good, nutrition. (Guess they didn't exercise.)

Others, by the way they spoke, demonstrated a pitiful lack of education — living examples of a New Orleans public education system that's little better than a charade, with only about half the kids managing to graduate from high school within four years.

Guess the poor folks of New Orleans missed the bull market of the '90s.

They've been let down for a long time, and this time America was refusing to even toss out a few MREs or a pallet of water from a helicopter or open up its military hospital ship, the USS Bataan, which happened to be in the Gulf when Katrina hit. The governor kept begging for evacuation buses.

It was ghastly.

The Blame Game

And now the Bush administration and its minions have taken to the airwaves to blame the local authorities. Let the swift-boating begin. Don't show the bodies on TV. The death toll isn't as high as expected.

The PR strategy seems to be working.

Yet one can't deny the bells are tolling for the New Deal and the Great Society. The bells are tolling for our hopes for an equal society, a compassionate society. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" sounds so quaint, so naïve to our modern ears.

Laura Bush was insulted and upset to hear that people were saying it was racism that slowed down the relief efforts.

The lady protests too much. I say to Mrs. Bush, "Get real."

A Republican friend who lives in Louisiana said, "The people who didn't evacuate when they should have are just the dregs of society, the worst people, the people nobody wants. Most of them are convicted felons and the ones who aren't convicted felons just haven't been caught."

So the dregs are in the Astrodome waiting for their $2,000 debit card.

Cindy Sheehan continues to tour the country, still waiting for the president to explain the noble cause for which her son died.

Perhaps if the president would explain, military recruiters wouldn't have to troll among the country’s most vulnerable. If people did truly believe the cause was noble, wouldn't they be lining up?

Right now, I think the "noble cause" that is America is being rewritten. I am not hopeful.

After September 11 there was talk about "reaching out" to the Arab-Muslim world. I would think that any African-Americans who started hearing about this administration and/or the Republican party extending a hand to them would want to head for the hills!

Currently, I'm reading The Diary of Anne Frank for inspiration.

Leslie Goldberg is a former reporter for the San Francisco Examiner.

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