Who Will Protect Us?

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We are in the moment of time sometimes known as the aftermath - what comes after a major event. Aftermath can be a time of opportunity as well as challenge.

We're in the aftermath of the Iraq War.  Fast approaching the 2,000 mark of soldiers killed in Iraq and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, with dozens more dying each week. This past week it was five teachers. Hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent, including dollars, which may never be accounted for. Still no weapons of mass destruction found.  Still no stable government.  Still no exit plan or any idea of what marks will need to be in place for the world to judge the war's success or failure.

We're in the aftermath of two hurricanes, one of which devastated a whole region and forced the evacuation of a million people. But while Americans were forced to look at the fault lines of race and poverty revealed by the disaster, we, the citizens of the wealthiest nation in the world, seem already to be denying what we saw with our own eyes and seem to be moving on to the next news item without dealing with the twin evils of racism and classism found not only in New Orleans, but across the nation.  
It's clear to us all now that not only was the federal government unable to respond quickly and effectively on behalf of its most vulnerable citizens, especially in New Orleans, but so, too, were the state and local governments.  And the question remains of what will happen in the case of a terrorist attack or another natural disaster. Is it every citizen for him or herself? Will the disabled, the frail, the elderly, the children, the poor be left behind literally as well as figuratively?

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is making up for its unresponsiveness to Hurricane Katrina victims by spending millions, perhaps billions of dollars in the clean up, including many unbid contracts which seem to be going to those companies with well-connected Republican lobbyists. And there are reports that just before the White House procurement chief resigned and was subsequently arrested by the FBI, he made sure to add a provision into the legislation passed by Congress to help rebuild after Katrina, a provision that exponentially raised the dollar amounts for unbid contracts.

We're in the aftermath of two pieces of fiscal legislation passed by Congress.  One gave deep tax cuts to the wealthiest of the wealthy and almost simultaneously made cuts in Medicaid funding for the sickest and poorest Americans. Thus, many of these patients, who can least afford it, just learned they will pay more for their health care, while many states are slashing them entirely from their rolls. 

Meanwhile, the recently-passed transportation bill included hundreds of millions of dollars in Congressional pork barrel spending, including a bridge and /or highway to nowhere in Alaska and pet projects of many other Congresspersons.

We're in the aftermath of two decades of denial that we need a viable, focused, intentional alternative energy policy if we are serious about continuing to be the world's super power and if we are serious about protecting the environment.  Moreover, some are beginning to wonder whether the increasing intensity of hurricanes might not be due to global warming, exacerbated by our nation's refusal to sign the Kyota protocols.  It seems more than a little disingenuous for President Bush to all of a sudden suggest that Americans might conserve oil after the second hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, when he refused to do so after the attacks on 9/11 and when he still refuses to sign the Kyoto treaty.

We're in the aftermath of all of this. And what scares me is that because of all of these policies, we're in hock up to our eyeballs as a nation in order to pay for all of this and there seems to be no plan for how we're going to pay for it.  Many Americans are totally unaware of how indebted we are to China, which continues to buy our treasury bonds. But if China ever changes its mind, or calls in its chips, this nation is very vulnerable. 

What scares me is that our national debt is fast approaching $7 trillion and we have placed this incredible burden, which might be called a future tax, on the next generations so that our wealthiest might not pay taxes at all today.  It would be like our family today buying new cars and fine houses without having to pay, expecting that our grandchildren would pay our debt.  Where's the justice or the personal responsibility in that?

What scares me is that as a nation we have no idea when our soldiers will be able to return home to their families and, in the case of the National Guard, to their jobs. The Iraq of today is less peaceful, less secure, with no more public services than the Iraq of a year ago. As I understand it, all of our troops will have had two tours of duty in Iraq by next spring. Will we then require them to go to Iraq for the third time or will we have to institute the draft just to provide the soldiers we need?

What scares me is that our nation is held hostage to the OPEC oil cartel more today than we were a generation ago. And what scares me is that poor people and old people will freeze in unheated homes this winter as natural gas and oil prices soar.

Sometimes in the aftermath, things become clearer than they were in the midst of the storm. Maybe now we will use the words accountability and responsibility, not just when we talk about welfare reform, but when we talk about tax reform and legislative reform and government reform at its highest levels. Maybe, just maybe.  

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