9/12/2005

Which kind of extremist are you?

One of these days, the levees around New Orleans will finally be raised and strengthened to handle a Category 5 hurricane, but land developers are already salivating over the "new" New Orleans.

They imagine a New Orleans of pricey hotels, condos, and shopping districts. The single-family homes will be bulldozed and replaced with high-rent apartments so landlords can further gouge the pocketbooks and dignity of the working class poor employed in the tourist and service industries -- waiters, cashiers, nurses aides, receptionists, cooks, delivery drivers, and so on. Instead of becoming a model city that pays a living wage to its citizens, that cares about the health and welfare of its citizens from the cradle to the grave, the "new" New Orleans will likely become a showcase for the very worst of modern capitalism. Greed.

The Garden district and Bourbon Street will still be the main tourist draw because of the name recognition, but the real character of the city lives in a gumbo mix of French-speaking people, families of former slaves, and Latin Americans and, if they are driven out by high rent, then Bourbon Street will be nothing more than an old facade. A page in a history book.

Cities are for people, for human beings of all colors. Cities should be planned logically so people can live near shopping centers, markets, and mass transit routes. City buses should be all-electric, biodiesel, or hybrid, to keep air pollution to a minimum. All employers should have to pay a living wage. National health insurance should provide for all health and dental care needs with a special focus on preventative medicine and patient teaching. Building codes should be strictly enforced in areas prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. No exceptions for casinos and special interests.

I have heard people say that we are all extremists. Some of us believe that the Earth and human society exist for humankind, for all the people who inhabit the Earth, and that we should strive to live together, better ourselves, and share the planet with as much justice and harmony as possible. Others believe that the Earth can be divided up and owned, that its wealth can be exploited for the personal riches of a few while millions suffer from starvation, poverty, lack of clean drinking water, lack of health care, lack of housing, and lack of education. The real question then becomes: Which kind of extremist are you?

As images from New Orleans have reached the rest of the world, offers of assistance have come from many countries, including some of the poorest nations on Earth, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Venezuela offered a financial contribution to the Red Cross and offered to sell discounted gasoline through its Citgo stations to areas affected by the hurricane. The cash donation was accepted but the offer of discounted gasoline was refused by FEMA.

The Republic of Cuba, a Caribbean island nation with extensive hurricane experience, offered to send some 1,500 doctors to the Gulf coast. Because of US hostility toward Cuba, however, this offer was rejected by FEMA. At a time when the US may be facing a public health crisis beyond anything we have seen, these doctors could have been saving lives. Which kind of extremists control FEMA?

There's trouble a'brewin in the southland, folks. We don't need a war on terrorism; we need a war on poverty. We need a living wage movement. The land developers in the "new" New Orleans do not want the refugees back. Texas doesn't want them either. (Just ask Barbara Bush.) What will happen when the refugees start to return home as soon as the flood waters recede, even though government officials say they can't? Will the police or the National Guard be ordered to stop them at some razor-wire checkpoint? These are interesting questions -- food for thought, if you will -- that lead us back to our original question: Which kind of extremist are you? It's gut check time.

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