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Thursday, September 1

swimming in denial

While President Bush "grinned" in the rose garden, as the New York Times editorial board noted, radio listeners in Houston were treated to phone calls on the local talk-chat shows. A woman called to say that Houston, which President Bush thanked in his "worst speech of his life," was accepting people who were "sponging off the government." As if she never got a tax break. "They don't even pay taxes. Well, I am a tax payer and I want to know what is being done for me." She couldn't find a shelter that would take her, she had been in a hotel that she could ill afford, she said, and these people, "who should have left New Orleans" are getting all the assistance. In all fairness, the local talk host ask her, "Well, what do we do with these people? Shouldn't we help them?"

"I have no idea what to do with them; they are not my problem." She replied.

But in her crisis, she had time to call a radio talk show host and wail about "those" people, i.e. blacks. She claimed we Houstonians were inviting the looters and the welfare recipients to our fair city and asking for misery. She equated those on welfare with the looters. Cut from the same cloth.

So even as she was a refugee from Katrina, she took the time to tell all of Houston that she wasn't like "those" people all the while not recognizing that Katrina, didn't care about who she hurt--wealthy or poor. Katrina is quite an equalizer.

Many of the people left behind in New Orleans were too poor to get out. Many were old, sick, and frightened. I don't see many elderly people looting the Wal-Marts.

Why looting? For many, they believe, "why not?" Some of it is greed. Some of it is survival instinct. Who knows? There isn't much analysis of why people act less than honorable, but it is those raw photographs that tell some of the story and don't explain why. But not everyone left in New Orleans is looting.

Speaking of looting, talk of how infrastructure in New Orleans and other major American cities has deteriorated in the wake of tax breaks for industries, how tax breaks for wealthy Americans have left every state and many cities in debt, how the war in Iraq has depleted our cities' ability to strengthen roads and water resources is beginning to surface. Why wasn't the National Guard in the streets, evacuating the poor who must evidently be invisible to those with means who had to drive right passed them on their way out of town? Where were the "joy buses" from churches? I know that it must have worked for 80 percent of New Orleans, but many who stayed didn't reach out to others to get help because they didn't believe that it was going to be this bad.

What does it take to shake a person from denial? The more fortunate aren't really that fortunate if they have no savings for a rainy day. The less fortunate don't believe that they have the power to help themselves or each other. Being poor takes up a lot of time and energy. How deep is the denial if city officials--who don't exactly have a lot of credibility from the White House to the State House to the local cop on the beat--tell citizens to get out of town and citizens don't take action. They react with a sort of slow, sleepy stupor. And what of those with means? What stupor are they in that they find time to lash out at the poor, the elderly, the sick? What of those who grin while others bear it?

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