Bourgeois Deviant

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina, the Poor and Security

After reading this post from The American Scene, I was left with a couple of burrs in my saddle about the way that America is set up. It has long been my opinion that the social structure and economy of this country are far too reliant on the automobile. And yes, fossil fuels as well. I am sure there are those out there will say “Yeah, so?” So, seeing that so many people decided to stay in their homes or in their towns/cities despite grave warnings warrants an examination of their decision making process. The post from TAS looks into that and determines that many people were living paycheck to paycheck or were so precarious in their living situations, i.e. they would rather stay and guard what they have lest their belongings be taken by looters and risk life and limb rather than just forfeit it all and leave it to fate to decide how they end up. As Reihan states, if your means only provide a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, you are “always one paycheck away from disaster.”

So, many of these people were simply unable to leave. They didn’t have cars. They couldn’t afford cabs. And, indirectly because of the social conditions that often accompany poor neighborhoods; they lacked a community to fall back upon that could bear them. The option to rely on family was not their either because of economic status or simply sheer lack of kin. They couldn’t afford to save themselves.

But this is all peripheral to the point I want to make.

My borrowing the phrase from John Edwards is by no means an endorsement of him, but the fallout from Katrina has clearly illustrated beyond any doubt that there are truly two Americas. Oversimplifying it for the sake of this argument, the “Haves” own cars and/or are able to do things to insure themselves against harm, which in this case was to get out of New Orleans. The “Have Nots” were unable to do much and, either out of desperation or inability to find (and pay for) transportation, stayed and forced to endure what came. Many paid for that choice, if you can call it that, with their lives. I am nauseous at the prospect of whatever the final death toll may be.

The point is, this country is out of balance in so many ways and we have to do something about it. The best way to address a huge problem is to start looking for simple ways to solve it, or at least part of it. What if those people who didn’t have cars did have access to trains buses, or other mass transit? This one element would not have solved the problem of getting people out of Katrina’s path, but it certainly would have helped.

What I would love to do now is shoot off on a tangent that imparts my loathing of car culture and the status that it carries and how the automobile industry has been the single largest malignancy in this country since World War II. However, that will be for another post. What I will say is that it is America’s dependence on the car, abetted by the oil business has been, in the long run, at the very least, partially responsible for the class divide in the United States today. Granted, the greed of the American consumer goes hand in hand with them. How many SUVs and luxury lines of automobiles do you need? Did you notice who stayed or was left behind in New Orleans?

Follow me in this leap. What if we broadened the idea of security beyond protection from religious fundamentalists trying to kill us? (Note that I left out the word Islamic) What if security applied to the overall strength and resiliency of our society? You could even include the notion of sustainability in defining security. So, to beat a dead horse, our fuel supply is not secure because we are at the mercy of foreign powers who set the price and as a result, have undue influence on our economic security.

Just watch the United States in the coming weeks call on OPEC to increase its production in efforts to help our recovery from this cataclysm. Sure it will be in the spirit of charity, but truly, it will be just like the dealer giving a junkie a bigger hit to tide him over until he gets through this rough patch.

As with 9/11, the toll will be great and the recovery will take years. What concerns me now is how we will recover. Will state and local leaders be able to see the problems that led to this for what they really were and are? Will our national leaders be able to see past politics and give the affected region what it needs in order to recover and make things better than they were before? Will the American people be able to recognize that there was a bold dividing line in race and class when observing who was affected by this? It will take leadership and vision. Again, as sad as this all of this is, it represents a tremendous opportunity for change in a positive direction that can serve as a glowing example to the rest of the country, if not the world.

Then again, we could just let it all go, as Dennis Hastert thinks.

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