Thursday, September 08, 2005

THE LEFT COASTER continues its outstanding coverage of Katrina-related issues with today's post on the Bush administration's continuing efforts to treat the public like a bunch of two-year-olds who can be controlled through diversion tactics. The insistence in Republican circles that most Americans agree the response to Katrina was slow and inadequate, but blame state and local authorities rather than Pres. Bush, is belied by recent polls.

...[A]new set of polls show that Bush’s approval numbers are tanking as a result of Katrina, and that Rove’s recent vigorous work to redirect blame away from the White House and towards Democrats had only a temporary effect. The latest Zogby poll taken through Wednesday night shows that Bush’s approval rating has fallen to 41%, with nearly 60% now disapproving of his performance. And keep in mind this poll was taken in the thick of Rove’s blame game efforts this week. Along those lines, the Survey USA daily tracking poll taken on Wednesday, again in the middle of Rove’s blame the Democrats effort, showed that Bush’s numbers all went south that day. ...

Steve Soto also takes note of today's WaPo article about how porkbarreling by state officials in both parties directed millions of dollars to projects like building a new lock for the New Orleans Industrial Canal to accommodate increased barge traffic that didn't exist, at the expense of essential flood control and disaster preparedness programs. There's plenty of blame to go around here for state and local government, but, as Steve says, "None of this excuses Bush’s reaction to the imminent devastation and loss of life..."; or, one might add, his failure to take appropriate action to support state and local authorities following his declaration of a federal emergency -- at the request of Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who had already issued a declaration of emergency at the state level.

The WaPo piece quotes former Democratic senator John Breaux on why elected officials -- Breaux included -- chose to spend money on projects like deepening channels for oil and gas tankers when crumbling levees were being ignored:

"We thought all the projects were important -- not just levees," Breaux said. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but navigation projects were critical to our economic survival."

That's a fair point; but it's not just hindsight. It's also foresight. Breaux is looking through the lens of short-term survival. In the here and now, the people living in the Gulf Coast region have to think about jobs, family incomes, the local economy. In the long term, the survival of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast requires paying attention to problems that may seem to be of lesser importance.

On some level, what we're talking about here is not racism or greed or callousness, even though all of those come into play. We're talking about a massive failure of imagination, the inability to understand or even consider how the decisions we make now are going to affect us in the future.

In his best-selling book, Collapse, Jared Diamond talks about the response of people in our time to the demise of the Easter Islanders, whose culture flourished in the early centuries of the Christian era: by the time the island was first discovered by Europeans, in the early 18th century, there was no sign of human habitation, and the forests that once covered the island were gone.

When people today read about the Easter Islanders destroying their own environment by cutting down all the trees (over a period of centuries), we ask how they could have done such a thing. What were they thinking? What possessed them to act in such a self-destructive way? What went through the mind of the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree?

Well, who knows? But maybe they were thinking along exactly the same lines as we do today. They needed to cut down the trees for their economic survival. They weren't thinking about soil erosion or destroying the habitat that provided their food.

It's a lot easier to marvel and wonder at the short-sightedness of the Easter Islanders' decisions than it is to recognize how in many ways we are just like they were.

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