Editorial: Katrina Taught Us So Much

    This may be politically unpopular to say at this time, but most of the articles in this paper are based on unpopular concepts so we will go ahead—Don’t we all pay enough in taxes that our government should be able to respond effectively to a natural disaster? If we’re not paying enough in taxes then maybe we should so that we won’t need a bunch of movie stars and musicians raising a Carnival Cruise shipload of money, primarily for the Red Cross.

   Does this terrorist attack by Mother Nature on our Gulf Coast warrant the end of the “era of small government?” Since federal authorities practiced this level of devastation of New Orleans with the “Pam” exercise, having witnessed the devastation of the Tsunami of late 2004, and provided military hardware for any number of movies about extreme natural disasters over the last five years, why were they not prepared for Katrina?

   It is unprecedented in American history that one charity would collect nearly 80% of the private donations in response to one incident of national importance. The Red Cross is nearing $1 billion collected in response to the hurricanes. All these funds are going to an agency that has a stated mission to provide short-term emergency assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster — no, not FEMA. How fragile is our government that we need to rely on the Red Cross for ice, transportation, and shelter from the storm?

   We drive by firefighters, corrections officers and other authority figures shaking the cup asking for donations to help the Red Cross, even though they’re violating their own recently passed “Aggressive Solicitation” law. Some of think, “Go back to work protecting us! We already pay our taxes, and need more from our government.”

   If government workers have to resort to begging for money in order to keep our citizens fed, sheltered, and clothed how different are we from the struggling former Soviet Republics? Next, hospitals will be selling body parts in order to afford their MRI machines.

The hurricane has provided an amazing learning experience for the United States. Here are a few things that we have learned as a result of Katrina:

  1. It has been 13 years since the Contract with America, which was intended to reduce government and the level of taxation. Some of us did receive lower taxes, but government is substantially larger. How long can we sustain this imbalance?
  2. It may turn out that safety net services like food stamps, shelters, cash assistance to all poor people, and public transportation are important to society.
  3. It turns out that Arabian Horse Shows are not chaotic, dangerous, life threatening events that would provide a good training ground for federal emergency management.
  4. Housing is so precious in our society many will battle winds of 160 miles per hour and a 20 foot storm surge in order to keep their housing.
  5. Good government is extremely important. Some distrust and actively work for the elimination of government in favor of the private sector. In the aftermath of Katrina, we see that the private sector cannot evacuate people or provide emergency relief. We found that the private sector does a horrible job of distribution of vital resources like housing, health care and prioritizing reconstruction priorities, but so has the government.
  6. All of us were surprised to learn that George W. Bush does not care about poor black people.
  7. Local elections take on a new importance now that we have to think how a candidate would lead us if there were a natural disaster or terrorist attack in our city.
  8. It might not be the best idea to have our National Guard troops and heavy equipment in distant lands fighting wars against foreign enemies.
  9. We sure wasted a whole bunch of billions of dollars on the Department of Homeland Security that seemed powerlessness in the week after the hurricanes. The Department seemed mired in bureaucracy while many in the Big Easy suffered.
  10. Can we all agree the signing of welfare reform laws in 1996 was the formal surrender and official acknowledgement of our defeat in the War on Poverty? Welfare was an attempt to provide a minimum level that no family would fall below in the United States. Welfare reform turned out to be strictly a time limit to reduce the numbers receiving assistance. Very few actually left poverty, because as it turns out, wages have stagnated to the point that many families need two or three jobs now just to survive.
  11. Private non-government organizations need to develop plans for evacuation and disaster relief, because we cannot depend on the government to bring in the cavalry; or we need to completely reform the government’s priorities.
  12. It’s unfortunate that the majority of our country is no longer pagan. Think of the wonderful myths we could have if we still worshipped the Greek gods. With the alarming number of natural disasters and terrorist attacks over the past few years, we could have had the most amazing stories of triumph over adversity in history. Imagine hearing that the Hera Alert Level was at Orange, and you could see how much more effective that would be as a warning system.
  13. The condition of our environment, marshland buffers, and development that substantially alters the landscape might be worth paying some attention to with resources and resear

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.