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Chile: The Un-Katrina:

I guess to start this out, one has to address the lingering affects of Bush-Cheney. Not the issue of whether there exist any lingering impacts, because that’s obvious. But rather the number of times one can keep pointing to an eight-year debacle of catastrophic mismanagement of a powerful nation and say, “Things are this way now because of that colossal blunder.”

Personally, I would liken the situation to that of a town damaged by an encroaching forest fire… and Chernobyl. After the forest fire, insurance pays and people rebuild. There is painful memory, but things move forward. After Chernobyl, there is the lingering radiation. The poison is still in everything, and that sustained poisoning makes the original inciting actions more heinous and harder to forgive and forget.

You may sense a level of dramatic overstatement here until you begin to remember with greater clarity specific highlights such as the level of apathy and cloddishness in the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. And perhaps like me you felt your anger rekindled as you watched the rescue efforts for those miners in Chile.

Almost half a mile under the surface of the earth, 33 men were trapped. Organizations as varied as a team of submarine commanders and NASA collaborated on saving the men. As part of the rescue operation, NASA offered guidance on medical, nutritional, and behavioral health issues. The NASA team also provided suggestions regarding the rescue cages that were specially-designed to pull the trapped miners out of the shaft that was dug over 2,000 feet into the Earth. Thanks to the incredible hi-tech teamwork that constantly kept one eye on the clock, the miners got out safely.

In February of 2006 in testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged that delayed aid and fumbled coordination in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina fell far short of providing immediate help to the Gulf Coast that could have saved lives. Near the date of that testimony, the House released a report — called “A Failure of Initiative” — that found ample fault with state and local officials, including delays in ordering early evacuations in New Orleans. But it also criticized President Bush for failing to get more deeply involved as the crisis unfolded. Katrina was one of the costliest and deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history, killing more than 1,300 people, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

If you were one of the many stricken people who swam or waded the filthy waters flooding New Orleans after Katrina, perhaps pushing a loved one and a very few possessions along in a plastic tub of some sort, I wonder what your feelings would have been as the world applauded the safe removal of those miners in Chile. Could that reaction have included the popular abbreviation “WTF?

What was the key difference in the response to these two different disasters? Was the scope of Katrina so overwhelming that rescue and safety forces could not be organized in a timely manner? Was Chile in possession of plans of action for a mine disaster, the similar likes of which Bush-Cheney were unable to access since the Army Corps of Engineers never does any paperwork or keeps any records or sends out any memos about potentially failing infrastructure? Or maybe… the Chilean government never paused in the tempo of their response because in Chile the government doesn’t sit on its hands ignoring an economic underclass in severe distress.

When a country has deepening economic divisions and those in power either do nothing to bridge those divisions, or worse, work to maintain and exploit them (Who fights and dies in oil wars, Bush’s daughters?) then it may be inevitable that those class divisions will manifest themselves as failures in any emergency response involving a crisis anywhere that’s not on a private golf course. In our country, a bridge exists between these divisions, divisions that were deepened under Bush-Cheney. That bridge is the middle class. And with enough economic hammering of the middle class, that bridge will collapse.

When Obama speaks bluntly about these conditions he comes off to some, as I probably do, sounding like he’s quoting Marx. But have I really turned over anything here that you didn’t already know? Quoting another famous Marx, this time Groucho: “If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.” Many feel that we can’t point often enough to our eight years of Bush-Cheney because that sustained abuse of power must now become a painful historical watermark, and not a new level of acceptance. Chile never paused simply because the men trapped in that mine were not oil company executives. They were Chileans, just as the citizens of New Orleans were Americans. As far as our own rescue from the previous administration goes, I’d love for NASA to get in there and strap some boosters on that. Until we’ve fully recovered and everyone is out safely, however, I’ll keep pointing to that particular mine shaft.

in Opinion
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