Homeland security and the Gulf disaster08.31.2005 :: United States
Let us be clear, the hurricane, the exceptional sea surge and the inevitable flooding of the Gulf states were known days in advance to local, state and federal officials. These officials urged individuals to evacuate as best as they could. In other words, there was no effective state evacuation policy to help the hundreds of thousands without private transport either at the federal, state or local level. Many of the local National Guardsmen and women were in Iraq, not in their home states where they could have intervened in this national emergency. Mississippi National Guard Lt. Andy Thaggard said, ?Missing the personnel is the big thing in this event. We need our people.? The Mississippi National Guard has a brigade of 4000 in Central Iraq; Louisiana has 3,000 Guard troops in Baghdad.
The Homeland Security Chief and his army of functionaries were eloquent by their silence and, worse, their absence. The disaster relief teams were understaffed and lacked any effective emergency relief plans ? thanks to the substantial federal budget cuts to lower the tax rate for the upper 1% of the population. As a result, dozens of hospitals, homes for the elderly, mental institutions and other public facilities are without power, potable water, telephone and emergency supplies.
The ? Save themselves whoever can? philosophy of government, that places individual greed and wealth over public service and social expenditure, has turned a natural event (hurricane, sea surge and flood) into a human disaster. The pursuit of war and occupation in the Middle East has weakened the safety and security of United States citizens in a very dramatic and visual manner ? thousands of hungry and thirsty families wading waist deep in filthy waters, risking life and limb, to obtain the basics from flooded supermarkets. Now that the death toll is rising to the thousands and public officials are wringing their hands and mourning the catastrophe, President Bush has abandoned his prolonged vacation but the deeper meaning of this political disaster is still up for discussion: Homeland security means, first and foremost, the security of the American people.
This disaster was not inevitable. In June 2004, the emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana said, ?It appears the money (for reinforcing the levees) has been moved in the president?s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that?s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can?t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.? Homeland security means restoration of national, state and local budgets for civil defense against natural events, rebuilding of our levees, expansion of emergency transport vehicles ? boats, helicopters and trucks ? to evacuate vulnerable populations, safe and accessible emergency facilities with adequate storage of food, water and medical services.
The money, the agencies, the transport vehicles, the emergency construction projects, the National Guard are over there ? in Iraq ? not in our homeland, where they could be saving lives. Bring our troops home now!
August 31, 2005
* Professor Emeritus Binghamton University
James Petras is now a free-lance writer and lecturer, the author of over 50 books and hundreds of articles dealing with political economy and social movements. He is a regular editorial writer for major newspapers in Latin America. His articles can be found in his English language webpage at petras.lahaine.org.