Reckless Disregard for Human Life

Thousands of people are probably dead. Tens of thousands are without homes. Hundreds of thousands are without the basic necessities of life.

Like millions of others watching, helplessly, around the world, I am in torment.

And after reading in more than one source online — because I could not believe what I was reading — I am outraged!

The incredible, yet irrefutable fact is that the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have for years ignored the dire warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers and the representatives from Louisiana that the very disaster we are now seeing unfold in New Orleans was not only predictable but also in large measure preventable.

But the money for the studies and the improvements on the levees and sea gates — about one-tenth of what it will now cost to rebuild the city (and nothing can, of course, replace the lives being lost) — was not added to but cut from the federal budget!

And where did the money to save our people go?

“It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”

— Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004 (as quoted by Will Bunch, in Philadelphia Daily News online)

My God.

If this egregious “public policy” was not reckless disregard for human life and, thus, involuntary mass manslaughter, then what is?

The White House is as “forthcoming” in its response to these revelations of this scandalously low level of funding for levees as it was in response to questions about the outing of Valerie Plame by Karl Rove et al.:

REPORTER: There’s a lot of discussion going on about the funding of projects prior to this, whether projects in New Orleans in particular were underfunded because of the Iraq war or for other reasons. Do you find any of this criticism legitimate? Do you think there is any second guessing to be done now about priorities given that [a disaster in] New Orleans was sort of obvious to a lot of the experts?

MCCLELLAN: As I have indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together for those in the Gulf Coast region and that’s where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or politics. And I think the last thing that the people who have been displaced or the people who have been affected need is people seeking partisan gain in Washington. So if that’s what you’re talking about, that’s one thing. Now, if you’re talking about specific areas, I would be glad to talk about some of those, if that’s what you want.

REPORTER: I’m talking about policy.

REPORTER: One project, for instance, is the one where people felt they needed $60 million in the current ’06 fiscal year, and they were given $10 million. Those types of projects. And a lot–

MCCLELLAN: Which project is this?

REPORTER: Southeast Louisiana Flood Control.

MCCLELLAN: Flood control has been a priority of this administration from day one.

I wonder how that spin would play to the countless human beings who have been cowering in their attics or sweltering in the hellish nightmare of filth and stench and violence in the Superdome or wandering like zombies or dying like flies on Interstate 10?

Remember the tragic nightclub fire that killed a couple hundred people during the Great White rock show in Rhode Island in 2003? There were indictments for involuntary manslaughter brought against the club owners but not against the fire and building inspectors, even though they were apparently aware that the walls of the club where the pyrotechnics would be ignited were covered with inflammable foam.

Was that justice? I’ll trust in the wisdom of the grand jury and leave that be.

But it would be utterly immoral to not exercise our constitutional right of free speech and cry out for justice as thousands of our fellow citizens — mostly poor and powerless — cry out for food and water and shelter and medicine and life itself.

If public officials knowingly allow thousands of men, women, and children to be exposed to dangers about which the officials have been repeatedly warned — if the officials do not take the actions required to provide protection, about which they have been repeatedly made aware, but rather divert the resources for such measures to programs that do not directly impact the lives and property of their own citizens at home (and no, nobody in Iraq attacked us on 9/11) — are not those public officials guilty of at the very least the most grievous malfeasance of office, if not involuntary mass manslaughter?

The powers-that-be coolly calculated the risks — a levee system that was inadequate in the opinion of their own experts, at the Army Corps of Engineers, and a recent history of hurricane seasons that has been extreme to say the least and will most likely get only worse in the years to come, again in the opinion of their own experts, at NOAA — but incredibly after these deliberations, our government leaders intentionally chose to decrease — not increase — the funding for improving the levees so that they could withstand a hurricane of up to Category 5 (again in the opinion of their own experts, at the Army Corps of Engineers).

If we put aside for the moment the entire issue of Global Warming (aggravated by the burning of all those fossil fuels from which the business partners of this administration are making record profits), the weather is admittedly beyond the control of us mere mortals.

But that is precisely why we citizens empower our public officials to create public works that will do everything possible to protect us from such inevitable hazards.

American taxpayers part with their hard-earned money to build such things as levees around American cities below sea-level (and every city has its special needs, doesn’t it?). Diverting such badly needed revenue to other, unnecessary uses — such as a foreign misadventure costing hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, or tax cuts going mostly to those far, far richer than those drowning in the cesspool that was once New Orleans — is nothing short of criminal.

Even the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda — may they rot in Hell — never destroyed as many American lives as have the recklessly irresponsible policies — driven by totally misguided priorities — of the George W. Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Just look at your TV. This is not an issue of the Left or the Right — the storm surge and failed levees respected no political identity — it is an American fact of life.

And death.

Doug Drenkow

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