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Friday, September 09, 2005

Exploiting Tragedy, Hurting Workers

Conservatives exploited 9/11 as a way to further their foreign policy goals in the Middle East. Instead of simply resolving the problem by banning weapons aboard planes and militarizing the cabin door, Bush led us on a foreign policy adventure in Iraq. Thousands of lives later, 9/11 still burns and we have accomplished nothing but killing.

So it should come as no surprise that Bush is using Katrina as an excuse to undermine labor and hurt average workers. Bush signed an executive order yesterday that allows contractors to pay below the prevailing wage to rebuild Katrina in defiance of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act.

Bush's executive order does two things for him: 1) It helps giant contractors earn more profit. These rich contractors are Republican donors. 2) The government may get to pay less to help rebuild New Orleans. The savings can then be spent on the illegal war in Iraq and on tax cuts for Bush's disgustingly rich cronies. For workers, this means only one thing: making less money than normal and struggling to provide for their families.

What it does not do is help rebuild New Orleans quicker, better or more efficient. Most of the people working on these jobs will be locals from the area (hopefully). By paying them less for their labor, they are going to have an enormously difficult time reconstructing their own lives. Surely everyone in New Orleans suffered thousands of dollars of damage at least. Further, the government is going to need to help whether it's at a fair wage or at a sweat shop wage. Bush opted for sweat shop labor. In the wake of a tragedy such as Katrina, inflicting further terror on these people constitutes an evil act on the part of Bush.

It's good to see Democrats like Ted Kennedy attack Bush's move, but sadly it's not even a major story. The press, despite a bit of a resurgence is recent days, fails to point out the Republican tactic of exploiting tragedy to further their own far right goals.

Two more thoughts on Katrina:

1. The man who received the most votes in 2000 , Al Gore, acted more Presidential than Bush during Katrina. Al Gore spent $100,000 and arranged for 270 people to be airlifted out of New Orleans. Meanwhile Bush barely made it back from vacation. Think about how many lives would have been saved had the Republicans not stolen the 2000 election and forced their incompetent candidate upon America.

2. Professor George Lakoff on how, in addition to the natural disaster and governmental incompetence, conservative ideology itself also deserves blame for the horrendous tragedy of New Orleans:

The moral of Katrina is mostly being missed. It is not just a failure of execution (William Kristol), or that bad things just happen (Laura Bush). It was not just indifference by the President, or a lack of accountability, or a failure of federal-state communication, or corrupt appointments in FEMA, or the cutting of budgets for fixing levees, or the inexcusable absence of the National Guard off in Iraq. It was all of these and more, but they are the effects, not the cause.

The cause was political through and through — a matter of values and principles. The progressive-liberal values are America’s values, and we need to go back to them.

The heart of progressive-liberal values is simple: empathy (caring about and for people) and responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy). These values translate into a simple principle: Use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives. In short, promoting the common good is the central role of government.

The right-wing conservatives now in power have the opposite values and principles. Their main value is Rely on individual discipline and initiative. The central principle: Government has no useful role. The only common good is the sum of individual goods.

It’s the difference between We’re-all-in-this-together and You’re-on-your-own-buddy.

It’s the difference between Every citizen is entitled to protection and You’re only entitled to what you can afford.

Events like Katrina will occur constantly should we give in conservatives' wishes to provide no social safety net. The Republicans weren't worried about Katrina because their rich friends all flew or drove out. Poor people obviously didn't have the same options. The Republicans prepared for a major disaster by doing nothing but it's not the exception to the rule -- it is the rule when you govern conservatively.

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