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Iraq War Has Made a Mockery of Genuine 'Homeland Security'

The current administration in the White House is fast becoming one whose "accomplishments" are measured now more in terms of body bags and the availability of potable water than anything remotely resembling genuine progress. From the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad now to the gulf coast of the United States, the consequences of a White House that worships the supposed miracle solution of "free markets" and digital warfare in all things has finally come full circle.
By Mark T. Harris

Within this circle now we see only failure, suffering, and the death of innocents.

The situation in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a natural disaster of tragic proportions. But it is also a scathing indictment of the "man-made" priorities of the White House and a bipartisan Congress. Isn't there something ugly in learning that President Bush since taking office has willingly put the safety and lives of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents at risk, redirecting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds that should have been used to address a disaster waiting to happen to a disaster already happening. The latter would be the war in Iraq.

In 2001, FEMA was warning that a hurricane striking an under-prepared New Orleans was one of the nation's most likely potential disasters. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers had spent the previous six years renovating levees and pumping stations, under the auspices of the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. So what did the new President do? After 9/11 he put FEMA under the new Department of Homeland Security, which under the direction of the political cronies he hired to run the agency, steadily redirected funds away from emergency preparedness projects in New Orleans and into the so-called War on Terror. Under President Bush's watch, cutbacks since 2001 amounted to a 44.2 percent reduction in funding for the New Orleans district.

Think about it. For the sake of "homeland security," a major American city ends up devastated, the lives and homes of its people in ruins, sacrificed to a political agenda that values an immoral, dead-end war in Iraq over the safety of its own citizens. But this is not just a condemnation of the "sweet neo-cons" in the White House, as Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones sing in their new recording. For more than two decades, the American "safety net" has been relentlessly hacked away at by both Democrats and Republicans, cut and cut again until the lifeblood of public programs to provide for the health, welfare, and safety of the American people barely register a pulse. The Republicans like to describe their deregulated, privatized version of societal heaven as the birth of a new "ownership society" (President Clinton just called it the end of the "welfare state.") But, as we now see, even in the face of a massive public disaster such political values still mean that everyone, but especially the poor, are basically on their own.


"Answers" Only Beg More Questions

Of course, some will point out that the New Orleans levee system was designed to withstand only a Category 3 storm, and Katrina was Category 4. In fact, that was why a citywide evacuation order was issued 48 hours before the storm struck. But such apologies for the failed response and public policy priorities of the current administration begs more than one question.

First, where was the fully mobilized National Guard the coming storm demanded? TV reports are replete with stories of people totally abandoned and clueless as to what to do as the hurricane approached. The National Guard had two full days to evacuate the entire city and set up camps for the people, including on Army bases. But this was not done. The National Guard, as honest broadcast journalists were forced to admit, was not to be seen in any visible way until well after the hurricane hit. Instead, an estimated 100,000 people (20 percent of the city's population), mostly poor and African-American, many without cars or other means to get out on their own, were essentially abandoned to the harsh fate of nature. Is it necessary to have a degree in emergency preparedness systems and technology to question this?

Also to ponder is the realization that the storm was long gone by Wednesday morning and still only "a relative scattering of federal troops" could be found on the ground, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, Sept. 1. In Louisiana, 3,780 of the state's 10,009 National Guard troops were on the scene. In Mississippi, the number was 1,945 troops out of 11,690. In Alabama, only 1,736 troops of 12,770 had been mobilized.

Ironically, close to 7,000 National Guard troops from Louisiana and Mississippi were mobilized before and during the storm. In Iraq. There with the rest of a shocked country they could only watch in helpless frustration the reports of the growing calamity afflicting their communities and neighbors. But Katrina's eve did find some National Guard troops in the Gulf Coast region on the move. According to one CNN report, Guard troops were mobilized to the U.S. Air Force bases in Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama, to help move the fighter jets (mainly F-16s) and other "essential" military hardware to bases and hangars further north. It's reminiscent of the priorities evident after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the U.S. military first made sure the Oil Ministry building in Baghdad was under heavy guard, while looters ran through streets and state museums.

Incredibly, it took President Bush until Aug. 31 to announce that 30,000 National Guard and Army troops would be mobilized in the region "by the weekend" in what the New York Times called "the nation's biggest relief effort ever." But this was a full five days after the disaster occurred!

If people think this is the best we can do, they should look at how Cuba prepares for hurricanes. There emergency preparations including mass evacuations are coordinated by the National Civil Defense in such manner as to dramatically reduce loss of life and other damage. In 2002, hurricanes Isadore and Lilli within a span of just two weeks destroyed or damaged more than 57,000 Cuban homes, leaving at least 10,000 Cubans temporarily homeless or in need of emergency assistance. Remarkably, not one death was reported, thanks to an emergency preparedness system that both the United Nations and the International Red Cross have praised as exemplary. This in a country with far fewer resources than the United States.

Susan Hurlich, a writer who was in Cuba in September 2004 when Hurricane Ivan crossed the island, describes the coordinated, multifaceted preparations that accompany evacuation situations (close to 2 million Cubans were evacuated from Ivan's path). "Students who are in semi-residential or residential schools are brought home. Irrigation systems are dismantled and brought in for safe-keeping. Mature crops, such as banana, are quickly harvested. Cattle and other large livestock are moved from low-lying potential flood areas to higher grounds. And in the urban areas, drains are cleared, debris lying on the streets-such as tree branches, old pipes, whatever-is cleared to prevent it from becoming a killing projectile during strong winds. Tree branches that interfere with power or telephone lines are trimmed. It's a complex, multi-faceted and many-handed process, and it's done quickly."

Compare this to the travesty of neglect, chaos, and confusion so many residents of New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama have endured, at the cost of life itself for thousands.

What are our nation's priorities?

Tellingly, emergency preparedness experts have for years urged that the engineering challenges of upgrading the New Orleans levee system, preventing a flood disaster, as well as addressing other coastal management issues, could and must be addressed. "There were a lot of people in emergency management who were very frustrated," Joseph Suhayda, professor emeritus at LSU's Coastal Studies Institute, told Newhouse News Service (Sept. 2). "It should have been prevented." Unfortunately, what was lacking was not engineering know-how, as Suhayda told reporters John McQuaid and Bill Walsh, but political will. And, in the estimation of the Army Corps of Engineers, $2.5 billion in project funds.

Some perspective: The cost of the Iraq war is currently estimated at $5.6 billion per month, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

>From Baghdad to New Orleans, the policies of the Bush administration have literally led to disaster. Tens of thousands are dead in Iraq now as a result of the March 2003 U.S. invasion. Thousands may be dead now along the U.S. gulf coast as a result of the deliberate neglect of the public infrastructure and the sorry state of federal disaster preparedness. Yet the National Guard remains mobilized in Iraq where most Iraqis wish they would just leave. How much more appreciated their presence would have been last week, before and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The events of the past week reveal the spirit, courage, and compassion of so many ordinary Americans, who have stepped up to aid their brothers and sisters in this urgent, tearful time. And we can take hope from this. But we've also witnessed with laser clarity how profoundly off-course are the social and political priorities of the corporate political parties that run our nation. Under the rubric of the "war on terror," the American people have been asked by both Democrats and Republicans to adjust to myriad new security measures such as color-coded terror alerts, passengers removing their shoes at airports, and more serious Patriot Act-encroachments on civil liberties such as the government's claimed authority to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens christened "enemy combatants." But what does it all mean when the citizens of one of America's great cities and one of the world's largest commercial ports are left at risk because the corporate "free-market" ideologues who run Washington just can't bring themselves to do anything but recoil at the notion of adequately funding programs benefiting the public welfare?

According to the latest Gallup Poll, 41 percent of Americans now favor immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. But this growing expression of antiwar sentiment still finds only muted acknowledgment among elected leaders of the two major parties. All the more reason to hope the September 24 End the War on Iraq march in Washington, D.C., will let the White House and Congress know that Americans simply won't tolerate this endless killing, the suffering of innocents, and the sacrifice of our cities. For the sake of our future, it's vital that a new political and social vision emerges that puts the needs of ordinary working people over the needs of corporations. We must reject this callous, right-wing ideology that intentionally made a devil's bargain with nature, willing to sacrifice as "collateral damage" the mostly poor, African-American section of New Orleans to finance a war based on lies.

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Re: Iraq War Has Made a Mockery of Genuine 'Homeland Security'

First, I believe Bush and his administration stole both elections by manipulating the votes. I believe they knew or had information about 9-11 and chose to be in a safe place, because they wanted to have an opportunity to go to war with Iraq for personal gain. I was blown away when I heard there was not an investigation. It seems this administration has gotten away with more than having sex in the Whitehouse.

The horror for the people in the gulf (AMERICANS!!!) is over whelming. Being a veteran, I strongly believe in “leave no man behind.� That sure did not happen! Bush and his administration spent millions on homeland security. What a waste of taxpayer’s money. They proved to everyone there is no plan to help civilians during an attack on American soil, regardless of whether it is caused by nature or terrorists.

Too many Americans have lost not only there livelihoods, but their lives under this administration. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, there are fewer middle men. My concern is that Bush will get away with doing his investigation and that will be the end of it.

What is the Democratic Party doing about Bush and his administration? Will Bush be allowed to get away with it again?

Bring our troops home.
 

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